US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said he would visit a warship close to flashpoint waters of the South China Sea on Friday, as Beijing reacted defiantly to an American military build-up in area.
“Later today, I will visit the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, sailing in the South China Sea, after some of its sailors and Marines participated with you in Balikatan,” Carter said in Manila, referring to annual war games with the Philippines that ended Friday.
Carter`s trip to the warship is the latest move by the United States to show it is committed to maintaining security in the hotly contested waters, where China has built artificial islands on islets and reefs close to the Philippines. China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, even waters close to its Southeast Asian neighbours, and has in recent years built the islands in an effort to assert what it insists are its sovereign rights. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to parts of the sea, which is home to some of the world`s most important shipping lanes and is believed to sit atop vast oil reserves.
China has constructed the islands on reefs in the Spratlys archipelago, which are close to the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as airstrips capable of accommodating military aircraft. China in 2012 also took control of a rich fishing shoal just 220 kilometres (135 miles) from the main Filipino landmass. The shoal is 650 kilometres from China`s nearest major landmass.
Carter announced on Thursday that the US had launched joint naval patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea, as he spoke of growing concern about China`s “land reclamation” and “militarisation” of the region. He also said the US would deploy hundreds of troops, as well as five warplanes, to the Philippines.China reacted defiantly to the announcement, with its defence ministry warning the military would protect the nation`s territory.
“US-Philippine joint patrols in the South China Sea promote regional militarisation and undermine regional peace and stability,” said a Chinese defence ministry statement released late Thursday.