SYDNEY, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet said "friction points" in the South China Sea were a threat to freedom of navigation, and "might makes right" could become the new normal in the Asia-Pacific region.
In a carefully worded speech that did not mention China by name, Adm. Scott Swift said Tuesday regional players are defying international law by engaging in maritime activities that could lead to conflict, News Corp. Australia reported.
"If we are not willing to commit to resolving these differences peacefully, leveraging the tools of the international rules-based system that has served us so well for so long...then are we willing to accept the likelihood that imposed solutions to these national differences at sea will seek us out in our supposed sanctuaries ashore?" Swift said to senior navy officers gathered from more than a dozen countries.
Swift commands 250,000 U.S. sailors and Marines, 2,000 aircraft, 200 ships and 43 nuclear submarines. In July, Swift participated in a seven-hour surveillance mission on a Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft, and China had called the act "provocative."
On Tuesday, Swift said the Pacific Fleet would defend freedom of the seas through "routine presence, exercises with allies and partners and freedom-of-navigation operations," The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Australia's Army Chief Lt. Gen. Angus Campbell said the South China Sea situation is "very complicated," and dialogue should continue.
"When we stop talking, things can become very bad," Campbell said. Other U.S. allies, including Japan, have taken part in the debate and criticized China for acting "unilaterally and without compromise."
Washington has requested China put an end to land reclamation in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, but Beijing has continued to build on Mischief Reef.