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U.S. Military May Send Aircraft, Ships To Disputed East Sea Zone

On Tuesday, a Pentagon official said that the U.S. is contemplating the deployment of military assets to the East Sea to ensure freedom of navigation around disputed islands that are claimed by 19 nations.

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“Defense Secretary Ash Carter has asked his staff to look at options that include flying Navy surveillance aircraft over the islands and sending U.S. naval ships to within 12 nautical miles of reefs that have been built up and claimed by the Chinese in an area known as the Spratly Islands,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

If approved by the White House, the presence of US forces would challenge China’s desired hegemony in the region that has been characterized by a flurry of island building in recent months. “According to U.S. estimates, China has expanded the artificial islands in the Spratly chain to as much as 2,000 acres of land, up from 500 acres last year,” wrote the paper.

"We are considering how to demonstrate freedom of navigation in an area that is critical to world trade," the U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Chinese embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan said China said that he hoped "relevant parties [would] refrain from playing up tensions" or choosing sides.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters,” he added, using the Chinese name for the Spratlys. “The relevant construction, which is reasonable, justified and lawful, is well within China’s sovereignty. It does not impact or target any country, and is thus beyond reproach.”

Based its controversial nine-dotted line map, China claims nearly 90% of the East Sea through which $5 trillion worth of trade passes annually.

The country has dismissed international criticism over its island building, saying that the facilities will be used for military and civilian purposes.

“U.S. officials say they are concerned that a decision not to send naval vessels into the zone would inadvertently help the Chinese build their own case for sovereignty in the area,” wrote The Wall Street Journal.

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