0553 GMT July 20, 2019
Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said on Tuesday in Australia that some countries are imposing restrictions on the freedom of navigation through the region, in comments apparently aimed at China.
"It's my sense that some nations view freedom of the seas as up for grabs, as something that can be taken down and redefined by domestic law or by reinterpreting international law," Swift told a maritime conference in Sydney.
"Some nations continue to impose superfluous warnings and restrictions on freedom of the seas in their exclusive economic zones and claim territorial water rights that are inconsistent with (the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). This trend is particularly egregious in contested waters."
China insists it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea and accuses Washington of meddling in the regional issues and deliberately stirring up tensions in the region.
China and Japan also have conflicting claims in the East China Sea.
The US does not recognize China’s sovereignty in the disputed waters and is sending surveillance aircraft and warships to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims.
"Put simply, we will continue to exercise freedom of the seas for all nations, because we know from painful past experience, to shirk this responsibility and obligation, puts much more at risk than any one nation's maritime interests," Swift said.
The Obama administration is trying to keep its focus on a widely advertised "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific region and shift away from the Middle East, a policy it has pursued since 2011.
Observers believe America’s efforts to increase its presence in the region is aimed at containing China.