By Hwang Doo-hyong
WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 (Yonhap) -- The United States has reiterated its pledge to send a super carrier to the Yellow Sea for joint naval drills with South Korea without specifying the timing, despite China's objections.
"The only thing I'd answer is those are international waters and they aren't owned by China," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a media roundtable in Melbourn, Australia, Monday, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon, Tuesday. "They aren't owned by Korea. They're international waters in which we have and many other countries have sailed forever. My expectation is we'll continue to do that."
Mullen was responding to the question if Washington will send the USS George Washington to the Yellow Sea for the joint drills, which have not yet been rescheduled after being delayed ahead of the summit of leaders of 20 leading economies in Seoul later this week. The joint drills were originally to be held late last month.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates echoed Mullen.
"Let me just say that we believe and have long believed in the importance of freedom of navigation and we intend to abide by international law," Gates said. "But we will assert freedom of navigation, as we have for a long time."
The drills were planned as part of a series of joint exercises in response to the sinking of a South Korean warship by North Korea that killed 46 sailors in the Yellow Sea in March. Pyongyang denies responsibility.
China has repeatedly raised objections to the South Korean-U.S. drills in waters off its shores, and has conducted a series of high-profile naval and air drills in the South China and East China seas in apparent response.
The two superpowers locked horns early this year over 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 a separatist.
The Sino-U.S. rivalry peaked when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on disputed islets and seabed resources in the South China Sea at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi in July. The issues have long been taboo at the ARF under China's influence.
Further, the U.S. said last month that, under its alliance with Japan, it is obliged to defend the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, also claimed by China.
A Pentagon report in August expressed concerns over China's military buildup, including construction of aircraft carriers, ballistic missiles targeting aircraft carriers and other advanced weapons. China dismissed the report as disregarding "objective facts" and undermining the sides' military ties.
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