UPDATES TO ADD BACKGROUND
By Kirsten Han
SINGAPORE (AA) – United States Defense Secretary Ash Carter stressed Saturday that his country’s approach to the Asia-Pacific region is one of "commitment, strength, and inclusion” during a major security summit in Singapore.
Emphasizing the long and continued U.S. presence in the region amid tensions over disputed territories in the South China Sea, he underlined that the U.S. “will remain, for decades, the primary provider of regional security and a leading contributor to the region’s principled security network.”
He added that the U.S. will continue to send military personnel as well as stealth fighter jets, maritime patrol aircraft, bombers, surface warfare ships, submarines and undersea drones to strengthen its position.
"The Defense Department maintains its world-leading capabilities because the United States has made incomparable investments over decades,” Carter said. “As a result, it will take decades or more for anyone to build the kind of military capability the United States possesses.”
The show of strength came against a backdrop of conflict and tension in the South China Sea, through whose resource-rich waterways around a third of worldwide maritime traffic -- meaning trillions of dollars worth of trade -- passes.
While China claims sovereignty over almost the entire area, other countries such as the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia also lay claim to some territory.
An international tribunal at The Hague is expected to soon deliver a ruling on the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal.
However, reports that China intends to begin land reclamation work in that area have sparked concern.
China's reclamation work in the region, which includes the building of airfields on some disputed islands, has prompted the U.S. and its allies to express alarm over the maritime expansion, which they suspect is aimed at extending its military reach.
Last month, an American guided missile destroyer sailed near a reef in the sea’s disputed Spratly Islands chain, in the latest of U.S. "freedom of navigation" operations -- moves Beijing has called “provocative”.
“In the South China Sea, China has taken some expansive and unprecedented actions, that have generated concerns about China’s strategic intentions,” Carter said Saturday, adding that such continued activity would end up with China isolating itself within the region.
Stressing that the U.S. does not take a position on sovereignty claims, Carter reaffirmed his country’s commitment 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 United States expects and welcomes a China that plays a responsible role in world affairs commensurate with its wealth and potential influence,” he said.