US 'deeply concerned' about risk of conflict in South China Sea: Pentagon chief

Carter says the US is worried that land reclamation efforts could trigger conflict in the region.
Carter says the US is worried that land reclamation efforts could trigger conflict in the region.AFP

SIMI VALLEY, United States (AFP) - The United States is “deeply concerned” that land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea could trigger conflict in the region, Pentagon chief Ashton Carter said Saturday.

“The United States joins virtually everyone else in the region in being deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea,” Carter said at a defence forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.

Carter added he was worried about “the prospect of further militarisation, as well as the potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states.”

On Thursday, Carter flew out to the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier as it was sailing in the South China Sea.

The enormous supercarrier was accompanied by the guided missile destroyer the USS Lassen, which last month sailed past a series of islets in Subi Reef in the Spratly Island chain.

There, China is using dredgers to turn reefs and low-lying features into larger land masses for runways and other military features.

The Lassen conducted a “freedom of navigation operation” as a way to rebuff China’s claims of sovereignty in the waterway.

“We’ve done them before, all over the world. And we will do them again,” Carter said of the sail-by.

Carter was addressing key US politicians and figures from the defense sector at the Reagan National Defence Forum, hosted by the Reagan library in Simi Valley.