Washington (dpa) – US Defence Secretary Ash Carter, speaking Thursday onboard a US navy ship in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, said the US would continue to play its “critical role” in maintaining stability in the region.
Joined by Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Carter said, “the fact that I’m here with the defense minister from another country … indicates the great demand … for the American presence, because it’s been a stabilizing presence for decades here.”
He said that peace and stability in the East Asian region was “critical to the world.”
“Half the world’s population lives here. Half the world’s economy arises here. America has long been a stabilizing force here,” the secretary said.
He said that if his presence onboard the US navy vessel was “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.”
He said most the activity in the area over the last year was “perpetrated by China.”
China and several other Asian nations have overlapping claims to islands in the South China Sea, a major shipping route which is also thought to be rich in mineral resources.
The US last week provoked “strong discontent” from China when it sailed a navy vessel within 22 kilometres of an outcrop claimed by both China and the Philippines, one of several US allies in the region.
“We’re no trying to make divisions. We want China to be part of the security system of Asia and not to stand apart from it,” Carter said, adding that he had accepted an invitation from President Xi Jinping to visit China.