Pentagon mulls sending ships, aircraft
China's foreign ministry Wednesday voiced "serious concerns" over a U.S. official's remarks regarding an alleged Pentagon plan to send U.S. military aircraft and vessels to the South China Sea.
Analysts cautioned that the possible U.S. military move could disrupt regional stability and trigger dangerous confrontations in the region.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing on Wednesday in Beijing that the US side should clarify those remarks.
China has always advocated freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, Hua said. "But freedom of navigation does not give one country's military aircraft and ships free access to another country's territorial waters and airspace."
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had apparently requested options that include sending aircraft and ships to within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) around Chinese islets near the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea, according to Reuters, sourcing an anonymous official. The official said that the plan is to "assert freedom of navigation" in the area and would need White House approval.
Carter's request was first reported earlier on Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal, which said one option was to fly U.S. navy surveillance aircraft over the islands.
China will resolutely safeguard its territorial sovereignty, Hua said, urging the US side not to take any risks or make any provocations so as to maintain regional peace and stability.
The U.S. government has yet to make any comments about the possible plan.
Jin Canrong, a deputy dean of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times that the U.S. government must know the consequences of any such plan, as it could be reckless and involve great risk.
"If the plan is implemented, China for sure will make counter-measures, such as driving U.S. military aircraft and vessels away with force," Jin said. "The U.S. must realize that a majority of ASEAN countries do not want the U.S. to destroy regional stability."
Zhuang Guotu, head of the Center of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, however, said that the possibility of White House approval cannot be completely ruled out.
If the White House approves the plan, it could directly jeopardize China's territorial sovereignty, Zhuang told the Global Times.
"The US may also want to show support to its Asian allies, such as the Philippines, which has disputes with China in the South China Sea," Zhuang said.
The Philippine military invited foreign journalists to visit Zhongye Island, part of the Nansha Islands, by military plane on Monday.
Hua criticized the move on Tuesday, saying that the attempt shows the Philippines is the real rule-breaker and that its attempt to seize maritime features of China's Nansha Islands is futile.
China gave a clear explanation in April this year over its construction work on some of the islands, saying that the country's purpose is to strengthen the functions of those islands and reefs, and improve the working and living conditions of personnel stationed on them.
It will also help China better carry out international responsibilities in maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, marine science and research, navigation safety, and in many other areas.
Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, said that statements suggesting a U.S. military presence in the South China Sea firmly demonstrate that "the U.S. wants to dominate the Asia-Pacific region."
The U.S. has targeted China's construction work in disputed South China Sea areas in the past. U.S. President Barack Obama said ahead of the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April that he was "concerned" that "China pushes around smaller countries in the region."
Li noted that the increased targeting of South China Sea issues reflects that Sino-U.S. relations are becoming more tense as the U.S. is concerned China has already become a threat to its global dominance.
"The U.S. now tends to hold a tougher stance toward China and it is possible that it will adjust its diplomatic strategy in the future," Li said. "However, the U.S. must realize that such a tough stance will only lead to failure."
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to visit China during the weekend. Observers believe that South China Sea issues could be on the agenda.