Japan, South Korea and US must be united, says US Pacific Command chief

Image copyright AFP Image caption Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer (L) and Pacific Command Commander Admiral Scott Swift (R) review US Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets at Hunter Field in Hawaii

The commander of the US Pacific Command has said forging collaboration with Japan and the South Korea is vital to ensure freedom of navigation in the region.

Admiral Scott Swift’s comments come amid growing tensions with China over the South China Sea.

Admiral Swift also said China had not been as serious about respecting international norms and rules in its “virtual” islands as the US was.

In the latest row, China sent two bombers on a simulated bombing mission near the artificial islands it had built up in the South China Sea.

The H-6K bomber moved through the South China Sea for a few minutes “on the eastern side of Hainan Island on 2 April”.

Vigilance

There are over six hundred large Chinese military aircraft flying over the South China Sea each year, mostly carrying out low-level training.

China is the largest foreign military spender, with more than $250bn (£190bn) in annual expenditure.

However, Admiral Swift described Chinese assertions of sovereignty as “both ambitious and hollow”.

“Some of their claims in the South China Sea are less measured and more aggressive than what we’ve seen from the US, and it’s something we pay attention to.”

He also said the US “would continue to fly over and operate in the South China Sea for however long we see the US national interest demand it”.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a waterway rich in fisheries and oil and gas.

Others, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, say the sea belongs to them.

Other claims include areas off Vietnam’s coast and around the Korean peninsula.

Chinese state-run media have accused the US of being provocative and attempting to change Chinese national policy.

China said last month that it was not going to block US military activity in the South China Sea, after two American B-52 bombers flew near Hainan Island.

China’s Defense Ministry said the flights were not aimed at China or at conducting “any military exercises in Chinese sovereign territory”.

However, Admiral Swift said: “They (China) could come up with a different story saying, ‘No, it was not a military exercise’.

“We value stability in the region and are going to continue to take actions to ensure that stability.”

But he said collaboration with Japan and the South Korea was important.

“Most of our relationships are [between] key allies and partners that have our support in many ways”.

He added: “Cooperation between those two countries is going to ensure peace and stability in the region.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made it a priority to strengthen military relations with the US and China.

The US and South Korea this week agreed to set up missile defence systems against North Korea.

US warships and aircraft have become more active in South China Sea waters in recent years.

Last October, a carrier strike group sailed near disputed features and an air base that Beijing claims as part of South China Sea territory, the first time a US warship had crossed those lines.

In the past, China has carried out military drills to show its resolve.

North Korea, meanwhile, has been subject to sanctions over its nuclear programme.

Two months ago, a US Navy strike group entered the East China Sea as part of a demonstration of the US’s commitment to Japan and the region.

However, US officials insist the carrier group is not trying to confront China or North Korea, or test its neighbors’ defences.

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