Defense Secretary Ashton Carter stood aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt in the South China Sea, some 150 nautical miles from an area claimed by Beijing. That came after a U.S. Navy destroyer last week challenged a Chinese territorial zone around artificial islands. While China criticized the American actions, Carter said his visit was a response to regional fears. Hari Sreenivasan reports.
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Naval activity by the United States prompted another negative reaction from Beijing today, as Pentagon Chief Ashton Carter went on an unusual voyage with a U.S. ally.
The fighter pilots on the U.S. Theodore Roosevelt went about their business today. But this time, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his Malaysian counterpart were on board watching as the aircraft carrier plied the South China Sea.
The ship and its escort group were moving some 150 nautical miles south of the Spratly Islands. They fall in a vast area that's claimed by Beijing. China also claims a 12-mile territorial zone around artificial islands in the Spratlys, including airstrips and other military facilities.
A U.S. Navy destroyer challenged that 12-mile zone last week. Today, the Chinese Foreign Ministry again criticized the American actions.
HUA CHUNYING, Spokeswoman, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter):
China has consistently respected all countries' freedom of navigation under international law. What we oppose is waving the banner of freedom of navigation to push forward the militarization of the South China Sea. We hope the relevant actions and intentions of the U.S. can be made more open and transparent.
Just yesterday, defense ministers from Southeast Asia ended a meeting in Malaysia without issuing a final statement. It was scrapped after China objected to mentioning the sea dispute. Secretary Carter was there.
ASHTON CARTER, Secretary of Defense: I reminded everyone that the United States doesn't take sides in these maritime disputes, but we do take the side of peaceful resolution under international law.
Today, Carter said his carrier visit is a response to regional fears about Chinese behavior.
He called it — quote — "a sign of the critical role the United States' military power plays in a very consequential region."
U.S. officials say the Navy means to continue challenging the Chinese territorial claims, on a regular basis.