28 October 2016
US Admiral Harry Harris says China is militarizing the South China Sea in order to dominate East Asia. Photo: Reuters
US Admiral Harry Harris says China is militarizing the South China Sea in order to dominate East Asia. Photo: Reuters

China seeking regional hegemony, says US Pacific commander

China is being accused of trying to dominate East Asia by deploying missiles and radar in the South China Sea.

It is “clearly militarizing” the disputed waters, Reuters reports, citing Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command.

“You’d have to believe in a flat Earth to think otherwise,” Harris said.

Despite their disagreements over the South China Sea, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said they were nearing agreement on a UN resolution against North Korea for its recent nuclear and missile tests.

The two sides said they are cooperating on economic and other issues.

Harris said China was escalating the situation in the South China Sea with new deployments.

Asked about its aims, he said: “I believe China seeks hegemony in East Asia.”

Harris said he believes China’s deployment of surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the South China Sea’s Paracel chain, new radars on Cuarteron Reef in the Spratlys and airstrips were “actions that are changing in my opinion the operational landscape in the South China Sea”.

He said Chinese DF-21 and DF-26 anti-ship missiles could pose a threat to US aircraft carriers but said the vessels were resilient and that the United States has “the capability to do what has to be done if it comes to that”.

Harris also said he supports regular US air and naval patrols to assert freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, a vital waterway through which more than US$5 trillion in global trade passes every year.

At a joint news conference with Kerry, Wang said there had been no problems with freedom of navigation and China and countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — several of which have competing claims with China — have the “capability to maintain stability in the South China Sea”.

He said militarization was not the responsibility of one party alone.

“We don’t hope to see any more close-up military reconnaissance, or the dispatch of missile destroyers or strategic bombers to the South China Sea.”

Kerry said steps by China, Vietnam and others had created an “escalatory cycle.”

“What we are trying to do it break that cycle,” he said.

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