The US Defense Secretary has told a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders that China's land reclamation in the South China Sea is out of step with international rules. The US opposes any further militarization of the area.
Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies summit on Saturday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that the United States was "deeply concerned" about the scale of China's land reclamation in the South China Sea. He said the prospect of further militarization of the islands would boost "the risk of miscalculation or conflict."
His comments came a day after US defense officials said that China had put two large artillery vehicles on one of the artificial islands it is creating in the South China Sea.
"Turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit," Carter told the audience, which included representatives from China.
"China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined ... and China did so in only the last 18 months," Carter told the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in prepared remarks. "It is unclear how much farther China will go."
Carter said that the US was concerned about "the prospect of further militarization, as well as the potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict." He said the U.S. "has every right to be involved and be concerned."
The Pentagon would not release any photos to support its contention that the vehicles were on the islands.
Asked about images of weapons on the islands, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told Reuters was "not aware of the situation you mention."
China is not the only country in the region engaged in land reclamation projects. Others include Vietnam, which Carter is scheduled to visit during his 11-day trip across Asia. Others are Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Carter said competing claims of sovereignty over the resource-rich islands of the South China Sea could not be solved militarily. He said that US forces would continue to "fly, sail and operate" in the region to ensure the freedom of navigation and overflight permitted by law.
jm/jr (Reuters, AP)