MANILA, Philippines (AP) — In a move likely to irk China, the new U.S. commander of the Pacific Fleet joined a seven-hour surveillance flight over the disputed South China Sea over the weekend on board one of America's newest spy planes.
Adm. Scott Swift joined the surveillance mission on board a P-8A Poseidon plane on Saturday to witness the aircraft's full range of capabilities, the U.S. Pacific Fleet said Sunday.
Territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines and several others have flared on and off for years, creating fears that the South China Sea could spark Asia's next major armed conflict. Beijing has asked the United States to stay out of what it says is a purely Asian dispute, but Washington has said that ensuring freedom of navigation in the disputed waters and the peaceful resolution of the conflicts are in the U.S. national interest.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila had no immediate reaction to the Pacific Fleet commander taking part in the surveillance flight.
The Navy has acquired and plans to purchase more of the versatile P-8A Poseidon aircraft to replace its aging P-3 Orion fleet. The plane can be used for a range of undertakings, including anti-submarine warfare, and surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
A picture posted by the Pacific Fleet in its website shows Swift intently looking on as U.S. officers demonstrate the P-8A's capabilities. In another, Swift, wearing headphones with a microphone, looks out the window at the blue sky over the South China Sea.
U.S. Navy Capt. Charlie Brown, a Pacific Fleet public affairs officer who flew with Swift on board the P-8A, said by telephone that the admiral "was pleased with the capabilities of the Poseidon."
Brown did not provide other details on the flight, like whether the plane flew over disputed areas where China has undertaken massive island-building that Washington has asked Beijing to stop.
In May, a U.S. Navy P-8A was shooed away by radio callers, who identified themselves as being from the Chinese navy, when the surveillance aircraft flew over a disputed area where China has been undertaking island-building works. A CNN reporter who was on board the plane, which had taken off from the Philippines, reported the incident.
Swift took part in the surveillance mission on Saturday after a visit to Manila, where he met top Philippine military officials. He flew to South Korea over the weekend and will visit Japan before returning to Hawaii, where the U.S. Pacific Fleet is headquartered. He assumed command of the fleet, among the world's largest, in May.
Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin welcomed Swift's move, saying it showed America's commitment to come to the aid of allies locked in territorial disputes with China.
"Militarily, we are nothing against China," Gazmin said. "That's why we have been asking our allies to assist us."
In an interview with reporters in Manila on Friday, Swift assured U.S. allies that American forces are well-equipped and ready to respond to any contingency in the South China Sea.
Swift said he was "very satisfied with the resources that I have available to me as the Pacific Fleet commander," adding, "we are ready and prepared to respond to any contingency that the president may suggest would be necessary."
The U.S., Swift stressed, doesn't take sides in the territorial rifts but would press ahead with operations to ensure freedom of navigation in disputed waters and elsewhere. "The United States has been very clear that it does not support the use of coercion and force," he said.
The white paper on China's military strategy is seen at a press conference of the Ministry of National Defense on Tuesday. [Photo by Zhang Wei/Asianewsphoto]
On Tuesday, Beijing issued its first white paper on military strategy, ushering in greater military transparency by giving details of the direction of its military buildup to other nations.
The document of about 9,000 Chinese characters revealed a list of new expressions that have never before appeared in Chinese white papers.
In the preface it reaffirmed China's adherence to peaceful development and its "active defense" military strategy.
It interpreted the policy as "We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked".
"China will never seek hegemony or expansion," it added.
On China's security environment, it mentioned increasing security challenges brought by certain countries, citing the growing US military presence in Asia and Japan's major adjustment in its security policies.
For the first time, the paper noted that "some offshore neighbors take provocative actions and reinforce their military presence on China's reefs and islands that they have illegally occupied".
"It is thus a long-standing task for China to safeguard its maritime rights and interests."
Vietnam and the Philippines have kept building on some of China's islands in the South China Sea.
Accordingly, the paper said the navy of the People's Liberation Army will "gradually shift its focus from 'offshore waters defense' to a combination of 'offshore waters defense' and 'open seas protection'".
China issues first white paper on military strategyBy LI XIAOKUN (chinadaily.com.cn)
It also mentioned an adjustment in preparations for military struggle. Following the guideline set in 2004 in order to win "informationized local wars", the new expression highlighted maritime military struggle.
Regarding outer space, the paper reaffirmed China's opposition to the weaponization of outer space and its disapproval of an arms race in outer space.
As for cyber space, it said "China will expedite the development of a cyber force" and enhance its capabilities in cyber situation awareness and cyber defense.
The paper also noted that as Chinese national interests stretch further abroad, it will "strengthen international security cooperation in areas crucially related to China's overseas interests".
It said the PLA will engage in extensive regional and international security affairs, and promote the establishment of the mechanisms of emergency notification, military risk precaution, crisis management and conflict control.
The paper highlighted future cooperation with Russian armed forces, saying the PLA will foster a comprehensive, diverse and sustainable framework to promote military relations.
On cooperation with the US, China intends to build a "new model of military relationships" that conforms to the two nations' new model of major-country relations.
It will strengthen defense dialogues, exchanges and cooperation with the US military, and improve the mechanism for the notification of major military activities as well as the rule of behavior for safety of air and maritime encounters.
Zhao Weibin, a researcher on China-US military relations with the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, said though the paper named the US, Japan and some neighbors which pose security challenges, it is not written to counter them.
"In this chapter on the security environment, we just objectively assessed China's situation."
Wen Bing, a researcher on defense policies with the academy, said China has become one of the few countries that have published white papers to clarify military strategy. According to him, the US, Russia and Britain have issued similar reports.
"That is indeed a big step in China's military transparency."
Wen suggested the readers of the report examine every word of it, as "there are so many new expressions and ideas, through which you can better understand today's PLA."
Philippines cheers growing outcry over South China Sea
Manila (AFP) - The Philippines on Sunday hailed what it termed growing international support for its efforts to counter China's claims to most of the South China Sea.
The comments from a presidential spokesman came as the US Pacific Fleet released photographs of its commander in a surveillance flight over the sea, where tension is rising between Manila and Beijing.
Herminio Coloma, spokesman for President Benigno Aquino, said that "there are additional voices supporting our move for a peaceful resolution to the debate over... the South China Sea."
He said many nations agreed that the dispute "must go through legal process as signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea".
"We welcome the growing support for the position of our country," Coloma told reporters, citing the European Union, Australia, Japan and fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
We welcome the growing support for the position of our country," Coloma told reporters, citing the European Union, Australia, Japan and fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Coloma also cited recent remarks by leading US senators such as John McCain, praising the Philippine efforts to resolve the matter peacefully and calling on the United States to continue to maintain peace in the region.
The Philippines earlier this month argued its case before a UN-backed tribunal in the Hague, challenging China's claim over most of the resource-rich sea.
China has refused to take part in the proceedings and called on the Philippines to agree to bilateral talks instead.
The Philippines and other countries have also recently raised alarm at China's reclamation of outcrops in the Sea to create islands that could house military facilities.
China claims most of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of its neighbours.
The Philippines, as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, all have their own claims.
The Philippines, which has one of the region's weakest militaries, has been improving defence ties with its close ally the United States.
In an apparent sign of the continued alliance, the US Pacific Fleet released photographs on its website on Sunday of its commander, Admiral Scott Swift, aboard a US P-8A Poseidon aircraft, flying a "seven-hour maritime surveillance mission" over the South China Sea on Saturday as part of his recent visit to the Philippines.
It was not stated which parts of the sea the US commander flew over.