Washington yesterday stepped up pressure on Beijing to rein in its actions in the South China Sea, with top defense officials underlining the US’ military superiority and vowing to remain the main guarantor of Asian security for decades to come.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said the US approach to the Asia-Pacific region remained “one of commitment, strength and inclusion,” but he also warned China against provocative behavior in the South China Sea.
Any action by China to reclaim land in the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), an outcrop in the disputed sea, would have consequences, Carter said.
“I hope that this development doesn’t occur, because it will result in actions being taken by both the United States and ... by others in the region which would have the effect of not only increasing tensions, but isolating China,” Carter told the Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security forum in Singapore.
“The United States will remain the most powerful military and main underwriter of security in the region for decades to come — and there should be no doubt about that,” he said.
The top US military commander in the region, Admiral Harry Harris, said that Washington needs to operate from a position of strength against “all outcomes.”
“The bottom line is this: We want to cooperate where we can, but we just have to be ready as a military to confront them if we must,” he said.
The South China Sea has become a flashpoint between the US, which increased its focus on the Asia-Pacific region under US President Barack Obama’s “pivot,” and China, which is projecting ever-greater economic, political and military power in the region.
However, Carter said he would welcome China’s participation in a “principled security network” for Asia.
“Forward-thinking statesmen and leaders must ... come together to ensure a positive principled future,” he said, adding that the network he envisaged could also help protect against “Russia’s worrying actions” and the growing strategic impact of climate change.
The deputy head of China’s delegation to the forum said any attempts by the US to isolate China would fail.
“This is a time of cooperation and common security,” Rear Admiral Guan Youfei (關友飛) said. “The US action to take sides is not agreed by many countries. We hope the US will also listen to the other countries.”
Other Asian leaders at the meeting said the situation in the South China Sea was viewed with concern across the region.
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