World

US won't let China 'shut off' South China Sea

SYDNEY The US is ready to confront China should it continue its overreaching maritime claims in the South China Sea, the head of the US Pacific fleet said yesterday,comments that threaten to escalate tensions between the two global rivals.

China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea through which about US$5 trillion (S$7.1 trillion) in shipborne trade passes every year.

Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

The US has called on China to respect the findings of the arbitration court in The Hague earlier this year, which invalidated its vast territorial claims in the strategic waterway. But Beijing continues to act in an "aggressive" manner, to which the US stands ready to respond, Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command, said in a speech in Sydney.

"We will not allow a shared domain to be closed down unilaterally, no matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea," he said. "We will cooperate when we can but we will be ready to confront when we must."

The comments threaten to stoke tensions between the US and China, which are already heightened by President-elect Donald Trump's decision to accept a telephone call from Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec 2 that prompted a diplomatic protest from Beijing.

Admiral Harris said it was a decision for the Australian government whether the US ally should undertake its own freedom-of-navigation operations, but said the US would continue with the practice.

"The US fought its first war following our independence to ensure freedom of navigation," said Admiral Harris.

"This is an enduring principle and one of the reasons our forces stand ready to fight." - REUTERS

Chinaunited statesSouth China Sea