In response to Bejing's territorial claims in the South China Sea, Singapore has agreed to host a US P-8 Poseidon spy plane. China has said the move does not accord with the "joint long-term interests" of the region.
Following a meeting in Washington on Monday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his Singapore counterpart Ng Eng Hen said both countries "welcomed the inaugural deployment of the…aircraft," which will stay in Singapore until December 14.
The plane "would promote greater interoperability with regional militaries through participation in bilateral and multilateral exercises," the pair said.
A separate statement from Singapore's Defense Ministry said that both ministers had "reaffirmed the importance of a strong US presence in the Asia-Pacific in ensuring regional peace and stability."
Message to China
The announcement on Monday was just a small part of an enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed by Carter and Ng. Also included in the accord was cooperation in fighting transnational terrorism and piracy.
Southeast Asian diplomats believe the move is an "understated message" to China that the US is prepared to support its allies in the South China Sea region.
Responding to the deployment of the US spy plane on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that "this kind of increase in military deployment by the United States and pushing regional militarization does not accord with the long-term joint interests of the countries in this region."
Tensions have continued to grow between Washington and Beijing since China claimed sovereignty over virtually all of the resource-rich South China Sea - parts of which are also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and non-ASEAN member Taiwan.
Since 2013, Beijing has also hastened the creation of new outposts, by piling sand on top of reefs and coral atolls. Buildings, ports, and airstrips large enough to handle bombers and fighter jets have also been built on the islands - activities seen as a bid to alter the territorial status quo by altering the geography.
The US believes that China's island-building could threaten navigation within the disputed area as the South China Sea sits in one of the busiest trade routes in the world.
Washington recently angered China by sending a warship within the 12-nautical-mile (22-kilometer, 13-statute-mile) territorial limit around Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands archipelago, where China and the Philippines have competing claims.
ksb/jil (Reuters, AFP, dpa)