The Pentagon is considering sending US military aircraft and ships to assert freedom of navigation around growing Chinese-made artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed US official.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter has requested options that include sending US military ships and aircraft within 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) of reefs that China has been building up in the disputed Spratly Islands, the official said.
Such a move would directly challenge Chinese efforts to expand its influence in the disputed region.
“We are considering how to demonstrate freedom of navigation in an area that is critical to world trade,” the official said.
Any options would need to be approved by the White House.
Sending ships and aircraft near the islands would be in line with regular US military “freedom of navigation” operations, such as those conducted last year to challenge maritime claims of 19 countries, including China.
Five countries as well as China lay claim to parts of the Spratly archipelago. They are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Recent satellite images have shown that since about March last year, China has conducted reclamation work at seven sites in the Spratlys and is constructing a military-sized air strip on one artificial island and possibly a second on another, the report said.
Other images have suggested that China is working to extend another airstrip to that length in the Paracel Islands, further north in the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, a vital shipping route through which US$5 trillion of trade passes every year.
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