US Republican congressmen have urged President Barack Obama to order more military operations near disputed territories in the South China Sea, despite China’s earlier condemnation of the US militarization of the region.
The US Navy has increased its sailing near disputed islands as part of its so-called “freedom of navigation” operations over the past few months.
Republicans told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that the Obama administration should make such operations more regular.
“I don’t (know) why we are not doing it weekly, or monthly,” said committee chairman Senator Bob Corker while referring to the presence of 60% of US warships in the Pacific region.
The Tennessee senator noted that China is a geopolitical rival for the United States. “Merely managing differences with China is not a successful formula particularly when such management cedes US influence and places American interest at risk in the Indo-Pacific and beyond,” he said.
Senator Cory Gardner also said the current plan of deploying warships to the region every three months “is simply insufficient to send a strong message to China.”
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed with the congressmen, saying Beijing risked “conflict, instability and isolation” in the region unless it clarified claims on the territories based on international law.
“As long as the United States remains fully present in the region, any tactical advantage that China derives from some of these outposts will be vastly outweighed by the net effect of surrounding itself with increasingly angry, increasingly suspicious neighbors who are increasingly close to the United States,” he said.
This as China has repeatedly condemned such US naval patrols as “the real militarization” of the region.
The South China Sea has become a source of tension between China, the US, and some regional countries who are seeking control of trade routes and mineral deposits there.
The US accuses China of militarizing the South China Sea after reports that the Chinese deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile battery to the Paracel Islands in the region last month.
China has dismissed such claims, saying the Stennis’s patrol provides evidence of further US attempts for flare-up of military tensions.
The disputed islands are claimed by countries such as Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, which all have overlapping claims with China over the territories in the South China Sea, including the Paracels, Spratly Islands, Pratas Islands and Scarborough Shoal.
Washington and its regional allies have been accusing Beijing of attempting to take advantage of the situation and gradually assert control in the South China Sea.
Beijing, however, rejects the allegations and accuses Washington of meddling in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the South China Sea.