US Navy will Continue FONOPS in South China Sea, Affirm its Commanders
The U.S. Navy will continue its freedom of navigation patrols (FONOPS) in the South China Sea and there has been no change in the policy underpinning these patrols.
A spate of news stories in U.S. media said the Pentagon recently rejected a navy request to conduct a FONOP at Scarborough Shoal (which is owned by the Philippines but occupied by China). This refusal has led to speculation Trump is putting pressure on the military to back-off from confronting China.
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Trump now relies on Beijing to strong arm North Korea into giving-up its nuclear weapons development program, thereby easing rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Two previous FONOP requests by the navy in February were also rejected by the Pentagon.
Not a single FONOP has been carried out under the Trump administration.
Admiral Scott Swift, Commander, United States Pacific Fleet (USPACFLT), however, said there has been no policy change as regards U.S. Navy FONOPS. These operations will continue, he said.
With fleet headquarters at Pearl Harbor Naval Station in Hawaii, USPACFLT provides naval forces to the United States Pacific Command, the unified combatant command of the U.S. armed forces responsible for the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
"There is nothing that has significantly changed in the last two or three months," said Adm. Swift.
"We just present the opportunities when we have a ship in the area and there's an area of interest ... They are either taken advantage of or they're not."
Swift said there has been no change in the importance the United States places on the South China Sea issue.
"We are on track to conduct over 900 ship days of operations this year in the South China Sea," he pointed out.
In April, Admiral Harry Harris, Commander, United States Pacific Command (USPACOM), said the United States will carry out freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea soon, but refused to reveal details about these patrols.