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Despite Chinese opposition, US to continue with conduct of freedom of navigation operations

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By Roy Mabasa

A top-ranking United States naval officer on Thursday assured that the US will be “consistent” in its presence in the South China Sea despite Beijing’s opposition to its conduct of freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the area where a third of the world’s trade passes through.

“We have a tremendous amount of national interest. About a third of the world’s trade flows through the South China Sea. The United States is a maritime nation. We have a great national interest in that body of water. So, we’ll consistently be there,” US Naval Operations chief Admiral John Richardson said during the Asia-Pacific Media Hub telephonic briefing.

The four-star admiral said it is important to understand that the US advocates doing FONOPs around the entire world, “including contesting the excessive maritime claims of even our allies and partners,” in consonance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

“And so this is part of the way that the United States continues to show strong advocacy for a rules-based order that was brought together by UNCLOS, and it represents this balance and holistic agreement to govern the maritime commons,” Richardson told Asia-Pacific journalists who participated in the interview.

Last week, China again protested when two US warships – US guided-missile destroyers Preble and Chung Hoon – sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands.

“The relevant actions of the US warships violated China’s sovereignty and undermined peace, security and good order in the relevant sea areas,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing in Beijing.

He stated that the Chinese side expresses “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to the operation, Geng adding that the US ships had entered “without permission.”.

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