U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter flew to a U.S. aircraft carrier transiting the disputed South China Sea on Thursday and blamed China for rising tension in the region on a visit sure to infuriate Beijing.
Carter’s visit to the USS Theodore Roosevelt with Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein came just over a week after the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, challenged territorial limits around one of China’s man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago with a so-called freedom-of-navigation patrol.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
“Being here on the Theodore Roosevelt in the South China Sea is a symbol and signifies the stabilizing presence that the United States has had in this part of the world for decades,” Carter told reporters as the carrier sailed about 150 to 200 nautical miles from the southern tip of the Spratlys and about 70 nautical miles north of Malaysia.
Asked about the significance of his visit at such a time, he said: “If it’s being noted today in a special way, it’s because of the tension in this part of the world, mostly arising from disputes over land features in the South China Sea, and most of the activity over the last year being perpetrated by China.”
The warship was “conducting routine operations while transiting the South China Sea”, Carter said on Wednesday after a meeting of defense ministers from Southeast Asia in Malaysia, a forum marred by the U.S.-China disagreements over the sea lane.
Beijing has rebuked Washington over the patrol while China’s navy commander has warned that a minor incident could spark war in the South China Sea if the United States did not stop its “provocative acts”.
Read more at Reutershttp://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/05/us-southchinasea-usa-carter-idUSKCN0ST35J20151105#aia5wfeZuMhtY3iB.99