US defence chief visits carrier in S. China Sea

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis at Busan port in South Korea last month. It is currently on routine patrol in the South China Sea.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis at Busan port in South Korea last month. It is currently on routine patrol in the South China Sea.PHOTO: REUTERS

United States Defence Secretary Ashton Carter yesterday visited an aircraft carrier on routine patrol in the South China Sea, amid defiant reactions from China. He flew to the USS John C. Stennis after a brief stopover at a military base on the western island of Palawan.

"With each Balikatan and each cruise by the Stennis, with each new multilateral exercise and each new defence agreement, we add a stitch to the fabric of the region's security network," he said at the close of the US-Philippines Balikatan military exercises in Manila.

China's Defence Ministry said in a statement that efforts by the US to broaden its military presence in the Philippines reflected a "Cold War mentality" and were "not conducive to peace and stability".

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a news briefing later that the US, in conducting joint patrols and military drills with its allies in the region, was proving "who was the real promoter of the militarisation of the South China Sea".

Mr Carter's two-hour trip to the Stennis was made to assure US allies that it remains committed to maintaining a significant presence in the region, against a backdrop of growing tension over China's territorial claims and reclamation of rocky outcrops in the South China Sea.

On Thursday, he said the US and the Philippines had begun joint patrols there - the first, last month; the second, early this month.

In a brief statement, China's Defence Ministry said Central Military Commission vice-chairman Fan Changlong recently met soldiers and inspected construction work at some of China's islands and reefs in the South China Sea. But it did not specify where, or when he went.

China claims nearly all of these waters. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims.

Separately, the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force submarine Hakuryu arrived in Sydney yesterday - the first time a Japanese sub has entered the harbour since World War II - for bilateral exercises, the Japan Times reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'US defence chief visits carrier in S. China Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe