As we've reported, the guided missile destroyer USS Benfold is in Qindao on the first port call by an American warship to China since an international court rejected China's claims to almost all of the South China Sea. Yesterday, the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet joined the Benfold in the home port of China's Northern Fleet…more from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.
Admiral Scott Swift told reporters that the response of all parties to last month's court ruling was consistent with their long-held positions...in other words, it came as no surprise that China rejected the decision or that its air force started patrols over the disputed waters.
While visits like the Benford's are important to build up trust between the world's two largest navies, Admiral Swift criticized what he called China's lack of transparency and gave two examples. First, the sudden decision to cancel a long scheduled port call by the aircraft carrier USS Stennis earlier this year, and second reports that China has constructed hardened aircraft hangers alongside the long runways it's built on three artificial islands in the South China Sea. In Washington last year, President Xi Jinping promised not to militarize Chinese facilities there. Yesterday, the New York Times cited analysis of satellite images by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which found reinforced hangers, whose only purpose could be to house military aircraft. The Associated Press quoted Admiral Swift as concluding, "That increases the angst and uncertainty....and that is generally destabilizing."
The admiral went on to question China's decision to conduct joint maneuvers with Russia in the South China Sea. He also said that he expects the US to continue Freedom of Navigation patrols to challenge Chinese claims, but added that such decisions are made in Washington.