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By Ryan Pickrell

The head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet said he stands ready to carry out the president’s nuclear strike orders no matter the target.

Responding to a hypothetical question, Adm. Scott Swift affirmed Thursday that he would launch a nuclear strike against China next week if Trump ordered him to do so. His statements were made in Australia in the wake of joint military drills involving the nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, 220 aircraft, and 33,000 military personnel. The exercises — Talisman Saber — were suspiciously monitored by a Chinese spy ship, according to USA Today.

Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Charlie Brown later clarified that Swift was responding to the principle, not the premise, of the question and was not actually suggesting the U.S. would strike China. “The premise of the question was ridiculous.”

Swift warned against shifting allegiance away from the commander-in-chief and abandoning civilian control of the American armed forces.

“Every member of the U.S. military has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as commander and chief appointed over us,” he explained, adding,”This is core to the American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem.”

Swift also addressed the intrusion by the Chinese Type 815 Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence vessel into Australia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), noting that it was legal according to the law of the sea, just as it was when China sent a spy ship into the U.S. EEZ around Hawaii in 2014 to monitor the RIMPAC exercises. He did, however, call out China for maintaining a double standard, one which penalizes and punishes other countries for activities in China’s EEZ.

“The dichotomy in my mind is why is there a different rules-set applied with respect to taking advantage of [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] in other EEZs, but there’s this perspective that there’s a different rules-set that applies within another nation’s (China’s) EEZ,” Scott explained.

Friction between the U.S. and China has increased as the Trump administration’s frustration with Beijing’s failure to address the North Korean nuclear threat and China’s outrage over sanctions, arms sales to Taiwan, and freedom-of-navigation operations grow.

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