US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an American aircraft carrier, in the South China Sea on Thursday, a move that rebukes China.
Hishammuddin Hussein, his Malaysian counterpart, flew with him to the carrier after the ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur, which failed to reach a joint statement due to differences over the content of the document in which Beijing opposes the mentioning of the South China Sea disputes.
"Being here on the Theodore Roosevelt in the South China Sea is a symbol and signifies the stabilizing presence that the United States has had in this part of the world for decades," Carter told reporters on the carrier.
"If it's 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, and most of the activity over the last year being perpetrated by China," he said, blaming Beijing for the tensions.
Last year, China built artificial islands for planes and ships in the South China Sea, through which it claims sovereignty.
Carter said on Wednesday that the warship was “conducting routine operations while transiting the South China Sea.” He said its presence and “our visit is a symbol of our commitment to our rebalance (to Asia) and the importance of the Asia-Pacific to the United States,"
Chinese Foreign Ministry, on the other side, said that "China has consistently respected and safeguarded all countries' freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed under international law."
“What we oppose is waving the banner of freedom of navigation to push forward the militarization of the South China Sea and even provoke and endanger other countries' sovereignty and security interests. In this aspect, we hope the relevant actions and intentions of the U.S. can be made open and above board," the Chinese spokeswoman Hua Chunying added.
Fan Changlong, China's vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, told the Commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris in his visit to Beijing on Tuesday that the US moves in the South China Sea "posed threats" to China's territorial sovereignty and islands security, and brought "new unstable factors" to regional safety, according to China Daily.
China claims most of the South China Sea, as Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims. It is considered a critical commercial gateway, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year.
The US asserts that the artificial islands built by China are high seas according to international law, and therefore they don’t grant maritime features as naturally formed islands capable of sustaining human habitation do.