The United States “has had lots of experience” in “taking down small islands” in the Pacific region, a senior US military official said as the Pentagon ratcheted up rhetoric over China’s militarization of islands and reefs in the contested South China Sea (also known as West Philippine Sea).
Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the US military’s Joint Staff, spoke with CNN reporters amid rising tension in the hotly contested region where the US Navy again conducted freedom of navigation operations.
Asked about the ability of the United States to “blow apart” one of China’s controversial man-made islands, McKenzie told CNN: “I would just tell you that the United States military has had a lot of experience in the Western Pacific taking down small islands.”
The US Navy sailed a missile cruiser and a missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands in the past week, the first time it has used more than one vessel in the operations, which are meant to highlight the right of free passage in international waters.
“Without focused involvement and engagement by the United States and our allies, China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia,” Admiral Harry Harris, US Indo-Pacific Command said.
The Chinese government has reacted furiously to recent US statements. At a regular press conference on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the United States accusing China of militarizing the region was “like a thief crying, ‘Stop thief!’”
“Why does the United States choose to sail every now and then close to Chinese South China Sea islands and reefs? What is the United States trying to do?” she said. US Defence Secretary James Mattis said that China had not lived up to its promise not to militarize the area. “They have moved in weaponry that was never there before,” he added.