U.S. Navy to propose stronger South China Sea presence

The plan would be a departure from President Obama’s more cautionary policy.
By Elizabeth Shim Contact the Author   |   Feb. 13, 2017 at 1:34 PM
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Feb. 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy may be planning a freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPS, near disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Several Navy officials told the Navy Times both the Navy and the U.S. Pacific Command are to propose sailing near China's artificial islands in the disputed Spratlys, and possibly the Paracel Islands, where China has been building a military presence.

China's neighbor Vietnam is also a claimant to the Paracels.

FONOPS is viewed by many in the Navy's leadership as a standard mission, according to the report.

During his last term, U.S. President Barack Obama did not allow the Navy to engage in FONOPS, part of his policy of caution and avoidance of extra confrontation with Beijing.

That policy could change under U.S. President Donald Trump.

Advocates of the operation think FONOPS could remove ambiguity from U.S. policy in the South China Sea.

In recent years, while the Navy suspended the operations, China began to aggressively build in the Spratly Islands, installing military-grade runways and deploying surface-to-air weaponry, according to satellite images.

Ships with the San Diego-based Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which is en route to the South China Sea from the Pacific Ocean, are likely to take part in the operations, according to the report.

China's navy is building more aircraft carriers as its activities in the South China Sea continue to play a prominent role in its maritime policy.

The South China Morning Post reported Monday that Beijing's third aircraft carrier, the Type 002 vessel, is in development.

Beijing has decided to rely on a conventional system, rather than sophisticated electromagnetic take-off technology, for the aircraft carrier, according to the report.

"There are still some technical problems applying nuclear propulsion to the carrier platform, so the Type 002 will still use steam catapults," a Chinese source told the Post.

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