America Dismisses China’s Concerns: U.S. to Send Supercarrier to Yellow Sea for Joint Drills with S. Korea

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 (Yonhap) — The top U.S. military officer has dismissed China’s objections to the U.S. sending a nuclear supercarrier to the Yellow Sea for joint military drills with South Korea.

“This is international water,” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told soldiers at Fort Lewis, Washington, Monday, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon Wednesday.

China has repeatedly raised objections to U.S. plans to send the USS George Washington to the Yellow Sea, where North Korea torpedoed the South Korean warship Cheonan in March, citing possible escalation of tensions.

“The carrier operated up there last October and the carrier’s going to operate up there again,” Mullen said. “We have never adhered to somebody else’s view about expanded territorial waters, which it just isn’t. We will always go into international waters, as other countries do throughout the world and we will continue to do that.”

Mullen did not elaborate on the timing of the exercise.

South Korea and the U.S. conducted a five-day joint naval exercises in the East Sea late last month with the participation of the supercarrier, and are planning further exercises in the coming months as a show of force against North Korea.

Critics say Washington kowtowed to Beijing by conducting the exercises in the East Sea, rather than the Yellow Sea, as China vehemently opposed any exercises near its shores, particularly with the supercarrier involved.

China in recent weeks conducted a series of high-profile naval and air drills in the South China Sea, apparently in response to the joint wargames by South Korea and the U.S.

“One area that you see and I think you will continue to see roll out is the intensified assertion that the Yellow Sea is somehow an area of almost territorial seas for the Chinese,” Mullen said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Beijing also was reportedly irked by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi last month, weighed in on the dispute over islets and seabed resources in the South China Sea. The issue has long been taboo at the ARF under China’s influence.

Sino-U.S. ties also ebbed early this year after Washington’s decision to sell more than US$6 billion in weapons to Taiwan and to allow a visit to Washington by the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom China considers as a separatist.

China rescinded an invitation to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Beijing in May due to the military’s opposition.

China last month weakened a U.N. Security Council statement on the sinking of the Cheonan. The statement condemned the attack that led to the sinking, but did not directly link North Korea.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg denounced China last month, saying, “China is suffering the indignity of exercises close to its shores, and though they are not directed at China, the exercises are a direct result of China’s support for North Korea and unwillingness to denounce their aggression.”

Aside from the joint drills held and being planned, Washington is also poised to announce additional financial sanctions on the North in the coming weeks. North Korea is already under U.N. sanctions imposed early last year for its nuclear and missile tests.

Mullen warned of any further provocations from North Korea.

“I’m not sure with respect to what the leader will do in the future because he’s been pretty difficult — in many ways, he’s unpredictable, but in other ways he is because he’s got a pretty rich history of very disturbing undertakings,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in the future.”

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Articles by: Hwang Doo-hyong

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