Freedom of navigation operations by the United States should not be viewed as a threat, US Pacific Command commander Admiral Harry Harris said Tuesday after a US warship sailed close to China’s Zhubi Reef in the South China Sea last week, agencies report.

US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen

“We’ve been conducting freedom of navigation operations all over the world for decades, so no one should be surprised by them,” Harris said at a Beijing university, in comments released by the US military.

“I truly believe that these routine operations should never be construed as a threat to any nation.”

“The United States takes no position on competing sovereignty claims to land features in the South China Sea and we encourage all claimants to solve disputes peacefully, without coercion, and in accordance with international law,” Admiral Harris said.

“Some pundits predict a coming clash between our nations. I do not ascribe to this pessimistic view,” Harris said. “While we certainly disagree on some topics — the most public being China’s claims in the South China Sea and our activities there — there are many areas where we have common ground.”

The comments came hours after the US Navy announced plans in Washington to conduct two or more patrols per quarter within 12 nautical miles of Chinese islands in the South China Sea.

“We’re going to come down to about twice a quarter or a little more than that,” said a US defence official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about Navy operational plans.

“That’s the right amount to make it regular but not a constant poke in the eye. It meets the intent to regularly exercise our rights under international law and remind the Chinese and others about our view,” the official said.

US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said there would be more demonstrations of the US military’s commitment to the right to freely navigate in the region.

“That’s our interest there … It’s to demonstrate that we will uphold the principle of freedom of navigation,” Rhodes told an event hosted by the Defense One media outlet.

US Vice Admiral John Aquilino, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategies, declined to comment about when the next patrols would take place.

“We do operations like that all the time around the world. That will continue for us,” he said after his remarks at the same conference. “We’ll just keep going.”

Reacting to US navy’s plan for more warships visits on the South China Sea, Yi Xiaoguang, deputy chief of the general staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, urged the US “not to do things that undermine the big picture of the China-US relationship” when he addressed the recent US navy entry into waters close to a Chinese island.

Yi made the comment while answering a guest’s question after he spoke at a dinner reception of the international conference ‘Understanding China’ in Beijing.

When asked if the US takes similar action in future, Yi told China Daily that China “will take all the necessary measures to champion national sovereignty.”

China is dedicated to bilateral negotiations for the resolution of relevant disputes, and with the  ASEAN countries is jointly championing the peace and stability of the South China, Yi said.

US, Japan push for mention of sea row at meeting 

The United States and Japan are pushing to get concerns about the South China Sea included in a statement to be issued after regional defence talks in Malaysia despite Chinese objections to any mention of the disputed waterway, Reuters reports.

A senior US defence official said Beijing had made clear as early as February that it did not want South China Sea discussed at the meeting between Southeast Asian defence ministers and their counterparts from across the Asia-Pacific in Kuala Lumpur Wednesday.

“We’ve been very clear along with many other like minded countries that South China Sea language should be included but there are members who feel differently,” said the .. defence official, adding China was the main obstacle.

A draft of the concluding statement being prepared by host Malaysia makes no mention of the South China Sea, said a separate source familiar with the discussions, focusing instead on terrorism and regional security cooperation.

Wednesday’s gathering brings together the 10 defence ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with ministers from countries such as the United States, Japan, China, India and Australia.

The meeting, first held in 2006, is a platform to promote regional peace and stability.

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