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Obama Blocks Navy from Sailing Near Disputed Chinese islands 

US President Barack Obama attends a military briefing with US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham (L) at Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul, in Afghanistan, May 25, 2014. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

 reports: The Obama administration has restricted the U.S. Pacific Command from sending ships and aircraft within 12 miles of disputed Chinese-built islands in the South China Sea, bolstering Beijing’s illegal claims over the vital seaway, Pentagon leaders revealed to Congress on Thursday.

“The administration has continued to restrict our Navy ships from operating within 12 nautical miles of China’s reclaimed islands,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said in opening remarks criticizing the failure to guarantee safe passage for international commercial ships in Asia.

In this Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 photo, a crew member of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy monitors on the deck of the China's aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sailing on the East China Sea for sea trials. The Liaoning departed for its first-ever sea trials in the South China Sea, a mission likely to draw scrutiny amid Beijing's drive to assert its claims to those waters and their island groups. (AP Photo) CHINA OUT

“This is a dangerous mistake that grants de facto recognition of China’s man-made sovereignty claims,” he said.

The South China Sea is a strategic waterway used to transport $5 trillion annually in goods, including $1.2 trillion in trade to the United States.

David Shear, assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific affairs, sought to play down the restrictions on Navy ship transits close to the islands. According to Shear, a regional freedom of navigation exercise took place in April and the tactic is “one tool in a larger tool box … and we’re in the process of putting together that tool box.”

Shear acknowledged that “we have not recently gone within 12 miles of a reclaimed area,” noting the last time a Navy ship sailed that close to a Chinese-built island was 2012.

Credit: Reuters/US Navy/Seaman Apprentice Carla Ocampo/Handout

The disclosure undermines statements made Wednesday by Defense Secretary Ash Carter who said the United States would not be coerced by China into not operating ships or aircraft in Asia. Carter said the United States “will continue to protect freedom of navigation and overflight.”

Shear insisted that in recent years the U.S. military has challenged “every category of Chinese claim in the South China Sea, as recently as this year.”

[Read the full story here, at Washington Free Beacon]

Blocking China from militarizing the new islands could include a range of options, including freedom of navigation operations, he said.

McCain, however, noted that the U.S. restrictions on close-in island military flights and ship visits were continuing despite the provocative dispatch of five Chinese warships in an unprecedented deployment to waters within 12 miles of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands—at the same time President Obama was concluding a recent visit to the state earlier this month.

A visibly angered McCain told Shear the best way to assert that international waters around the islands do not belong to China would be for American ships to make 12-mile passages by the disputed islands. “And we haven’t done that since 2012. I don’t find that acceptable, Mr. Secretary,” he said.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, was asked if he is authorized to order ships to travel within 12 miles of any of the man-made islands and answered, no. Harris also said no U.S. surveillance aircraft have flown directly over any of the islands.

Asked why not, Harris stated: “I’ll just [say] that Pacom presents options, military options to the secretary. And those options come with a full range of opportunities in the South China Sea, and we’re ready to execute those options when directed.”

The restrictions appear to be an element of the Obama administration’s conciliatory policies toward China that have increased in the months leading up to the planned visit to Washington next week by Chinese President Xi Jinping….(read more)

Source: Washington Free Beacon

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