In a blunt message to China, the US on Saturday said it would stand with its partner countries to uphold freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which of late has seen rising tension in the region and also between Washington and Beijing.
“There is growing anxiety in this region, about China’s activities on the seas, in cyberspace, and in the region’s airspace. Indeed, in the South China Sea, China has taken some expansive and unprecedented actions, that have generated concerns about its strategic intentions,” US Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter told the annual Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore on Saturday where he reiterated India’s important role in Obama’s Asia-Pacific rebalance.
He said China’s actions in the South China Sea are isolating it at a time when the entire region is coming together and networking.
If these actions continue, the country could end up erecting a Great Wall of self-isolation, Carter warned.
He said the United States is not a claimant in the current disputes in the South China Sea. “And we do not take a position on which claimant has the superior sovereignty claim over the disputed land features.”
“But, the United States will stand with regional partners to uphold core principles, like freedom of navigation and overflight, and the peaceful resolution of disputes through legal means and in accordance with international law,” the Defense Secretary said.
“America’s Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea have demonstrated that it will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, so that everyone in this region can do the same,” he said.
Carter said the US will work with all Asia-Pacific nations to ensure these core principles apply just as equally in the vital South China Sea as they do everywhere else.
“Because only when everyone plays by the same rules can we avoid the mistakes of the past, like when countries challenged one another in contests of strength and will, with disastrous consequences for the region,” he said.
He said the United States views the upcoming ruling by the UN Arbitral Tribunal on the South China Sea as an opportunity for China and the rest of the region to recommit to a principled future, to renewed diplomacy, and to lowering tensions, rather than raising them.
“All of us should come together to ensure this opportunity is realised,” he said, adding that the US remains committed to working with China to ensure a principled future.
Carter also said the US wants to strengthen military ties with China.
“America wants to expand military-to-military agreements with China to focus not only on risk reduction, but also on practical cooperation. Our two militaries can also work together, bilaterally or as part of the principled security network, to meet a number of challenges – like terrorism and piracy – in the Asia-Pacific and around the world,” he said.
“The United States expects and welcomes a China that plays a responsible role in world affairs commensurate with its wealth and potential influence.
“And the United States wants to work with China to find solutions for the global problems we’re both facing and seize the many opportunities before us. By networking security together, the United States, China, and all others in the region can continue to ensure stability and prosperity in a dynamic region,” he said.