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US Navy commander says ready for nuclear strike on China if Trump ordered

US Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift addresses an Australian National University security conference in Canberra, Australia Thursday, July 27, 2017. (AP Photo)

The commander of US naval forces in the Pacific Ocean has warned he would launch a nuclear attack against China "next week" if ordered by President Donald Trump.

Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, made the remarks on Thursday at a security conference at the Australian National University in the Australian capital of Canberra.

"The answer would be yes," he said, when responding to a hypothetical question about whether he would be prepared to launch a nuclear attack on China next week if ordered to do so by Trump.  

Swift said that all members of the US military had sworn an oath to obey officers and the US president as commander in chief to defend the constitution.

Pacific Fleet spokesman Captain Charlie Brown later said Swift was addressing the principle of civilian authority of the military and his answer was based on an "outrageous hypothetical" question.

"Frankly, the premise of the question was ridiculous," he said. "It was posed as an outrageous hypothetical, but the admiral simply took it as an opportunity to say the fact is that we have civilian control of the military and we abide by that principle."

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Last month, the US and Australia held a biennial military exercise off the Australian coast involving 36 warships, 220 aircraft and 33,000 military personnel.

The drills were monitored by a Chinese military intelligence-gathering ship from within Australia's 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Washington and Beijing enjoy strong economic ties, despite frequent strains about jobs, trade, currencies, human rights, Tibet, North Korea, and the South China Sea.

Swift’s remarks came at a time of rising tensions between China and the US over the disputed South China Sea.

Earlier this month, the US sent two bombers over the waters, coming just a few months after it sent a warship to carry out a maneuvering drill within 12 nautical miles of one of China's artificial islands.

Beijing has repeatedly denounced efforts by countries from outside the region to get involved in the South China Sea dispute.

The US has long sought to limit China’s growing maritime influence in the sea, over most of which Beijing claims sovereignty.

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