“There seems to be a confusion in our policy,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said at the hearing. At the recent Shangri-la conference in Singapore, he said, “Sec. Carter stated we will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows (and that) turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air and maritime transit. However, PACOM commander [Harry] Harris just two weeks ago at the Aspen Security Forum stated it is US policy to afford a 12-(mile) limit around all (features) in the South China Sea… to include islands and formations.”
“It’s absolutely important that the Navy continue to be present in that region,” Richardson said, “(but) we do have to respect the legitimately claimed territorial boundaries.”
“Does that mean respecting that?” Sullivan said, pointing scornfully to a photo of China’s airstrip atop one of the structures known as Fiery Cross Reef.
“I’d have to at look exactly which of those claims are legitimate,” Richardson demurred. “It’s a dynamic situation there. There are competing claims down there…. We need to get down there, understand the truth, and make that very clear.”
“Mr. Chairman,” Sullivan said, turning to Sen. John McCain (himself no fan of Obama’s foreign policy), “I’ll be submitting questions for the record to make sure the policy of the United States is clarified.”
“Good luck,” the irascible chairman growled.