SYDNEY, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific sought to reassure worried allies and tell leaders in China that the United States will not allow the South China Sea to be blocked off.
Admiral Harry Harris said during a speech at the Lowy Institute in Australia the U.S. would not stand by as China asserts dominance in the South China Sea, which is a critical trade and fishing route for island nations surrounding the body of water and has increasingly been a point of contention between them all.
Harris said during the speech that the interests of the U.S. would not change after President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated in January.
"We will not allow shared domains to be closed down unilaterally no matter how many bases are built on artificial islands in the South China Sea," Harris said. "We will co-operate where we can, but we will confront them where we must."
The Chinese have been constructing artificial reefs in the South China Sea expected to be used as military bases, in addition to chasing other ships out of the waterwayand violating what nations in the region claim as their own territorial waters.
During the speech, Harris also revealed plans to deploy F-22 Raptors, regarded as the most sophisticated fighter jets currently used by the U.S. military, as part of beefing up the presence there.
"My point is that you can count on America now and into the future," Harris said. "I say that confidently because it's in our national interest to continue our engagement in this vital region as we support the rules-based international order."