FT: China Begins Patrolling U.S. EEZ, Possibly Off Guam

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Financial Times

Guam – The Financial Times is reporting that the Chinese navy has begun operating within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ], possibly off  Guam.

 

An article written by FT’s Kathrin Hille  quotes U.S. Pacific Force Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear as saying a Chinese military official has confirmed that the PRC navy has been “making forays into the US EEZ.”

READ the story on FT.com HERE

Admiral Locklear spoke to the FT on the sidelines of  a regional defense forum in Singapore this past weekend.

Admiral Locklear declined to confirm just where the Chinese patrols are occurring, according to the FT report. But the article quotes delegates at the defense forum as saying that “it was most likely that it had extended its radius of patrols and exercises to near Guam, rather than Hawaii or the US mainland.”

A nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone extends 200 nautical miles off that nation’s coast. It is different from the internationally recognized territorial waters of a country which extend out to only 12 nautical miles.

For years, the U.S. Navy has sent both patrol vessels and aircraft on intelligence missions within China’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

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Liaoning©Reuters

China’s navy has been making rapid progress, inaugurating its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in 2012

The Chinese military has started operating within the US’s exclusive economic zone, a move that could transform the dynamic between the dominant Pacific naval power and its main challenger.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of US forces in the Pacific, on Sunday confirmed the revelation from a Chinese military delegate at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a high-level defence forum in Singapore, that the People’s Liberation Army navy had started “reciprocating” the US navy’s habit of sending ships and aircraft into the 200-nautical-mile zone off China’s coast.

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Under international law, each country has the exclusive right to the economic resources inside a 200-nautical-mile zone off its coast, a zone different from coastal states’ 12-mile national waters.

The US and most other countries interpret international law to allow a right of free passage for military vessels through the EEZ, but China disagrees and has long chided the US practice of frequent surveillance missions along the Chinese coast.

“They are, and we encourage their ability to do that,” said Adm Locklear about China’s claim that its military was making forays into the US EEZ. He added that, as the exclusive economic zones of all coastal states account for about one-third of the world’s oceans, attempts to hinder or block free passage through them would cripple military operations.

Adm Locklear declined to confirm how far exactly Chinese military vessels had come. But delegates said that, from what was known about the usual movements of the PLA navy, it was most likely that it had extended its radius of patrols and exercises to near Guam rather than Hawaii or the US mainland.

The disagreement between Beijing and Washington over the “rules of the road” inside the EEZ has triggered two incidents that have severely shaken bilateral relations in the past.

In 2001, a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US signals intelligence aircraft off the island of Hainan and forced it to land, an incident in which one Chinese pilot lost his life and the US aircraft and crew were detained in China. In 2009, Washington complained that Chinese vessels had been harassing the US surveillance ship Impeccable in the South China Sea.

Military experts said the PLA’s new move could either signal a more relaxed attitude on Beijing’s part towards Washington’s military activities on its doorstep or spell additional friction in other parts of the Pacific.

Over the past few years, the PLA navy has greatly expanded its radius of operations, with more regular exercises in the western Pacific and the South China Sea and by expanding the scope of such drills by including several different fleets and larger numbers of different vessels and aircraft.

Chinese sources said the foray into the US EEZ was no more than an experiment so far. “We are considering this as a practice, and we have tried it out, but we clearly don’t have the capacity to do this all the time like the US does here,” said one Chinese military source who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The move comes as the US is fine-tuning the “rebalance” of its military to the Asia-Pacific and other countries in the region are trying to come to terms with the presence of two competing naval powers in the region.