[The Age, 13 May 2015.] The Age has just published an article from Reuters this afternoon by Phil Stewart and David Brunnstrom titled, South China Sea: US mulls sending planes, ships near disputed islands.

An edited extract appears below. The full and unabridged article can be viewed by clicking here.

Washington: The Pentagon is considering sending US military aircraft and ships to assert freedom of navigation around rapidly growing Chinese-made artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, a US official said on Tuesday…

Such a move would directly challenge Chinese efforts to expand its influence in the disputed region by literally adding territory through a massive island-building exercise.

Chinese embassy spokesman Zhu Haiquan said China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters, referring to the Spratlys by their Chinese name.

He said China’s construction work was “reasonable, justified and lawful”…

China drew condemnation from Japan and the US in 2013 when it imposed an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea. Aircraft are supposed to identify themselves to Chinese authorities.

The US responded by flying B-52 bombers through the zone in a show of force.

Five countries as well as China lay claim to parts of the Spratly archipelago. They are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. However, China claims nearly 90 per cent of the entire South China Sea, a vital shipping route through which $US5 trillion of trade passes every year.

Worries about the stability of the South China Sea extend through Asia.

The Philippines and Japan held their first joint naval exercises in the South China Sea on Tuesday, while Japan’s coastguard works with Vietnam this week, as Tokyo boosts maritime ties with two nations at odds with Beijing over the disputed waterway.

Japan’s cooperation follows a speech last year by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowing to help Southeast Asia maintain freedom of navigation and overflight in the region…

Reuters reported last week China had added about 2000 acres of land in the South China Sea since the start of 2014, according to one US estimate…

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