The U.S. Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, said on Friday that he would visit an American aircraft carrier sailing through the disputed South China Sea.
Carter, who announced the visit at the end of 11 days of annual military exercises between Philippine and U.S. troops called Balikatan or “shoulder-to-shoulder’’, said that Beijing has been asserting its claim to almost the entire area.
“Later today, I will visit the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis sailing in the South China Sea,” he said.
“With each Balikatan and each cruise by the Stennis, with each new multilateral exercise and each new defence agreement, we add a stitch to the fabric of the region’s security network,” he added.
“This is the network – peaceful, principled, and inclusive – America continues to stand for, and stand with.”
On Thursday, Carter announced that the Philippines and the United States had begun holding joint patrols in the South China Sea in March.
He added that the US would be deploying aircraft and forces in the Philippines on a rotational basis to boost the maritime patrols and ensure peace and stability in the disputed seas.
He said that China had criticised the increased military cooperation between the Philippines and the U.S., noting that the alliance was a sign of a Cold War mentality.
“The joint patrols between the United States and the Philippines in the South China Sea are militarising the region and are non-beneficial to regional peace and stability,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement.
“The Chinese military will pay close attention to the situation, and resolutely defend China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,” it said.
China has been reclaiming land on islands and reefs in the South China Sea, a key shipping lane believed to be rich in mineral and marine resources.
Manila filed arbitration questioning China’s claim before a United Nations tribunal, but Beijing has refused to participate in the proceedings.
The U.S. has sent warships close to disputed islands in the sea in what Washington has called freedom of navigation missions.
Apart from China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have overlapping claims to the South China Sea.