Defense Secretary Ashton Carter paid his second visit in five months to the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, on station in the South China Sea, this time in the company of Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
The Associated Press sees Carter’s visit sending a “deliberate message” on American power to China, which has embarked on a major military build-up in the area, seeking to claim nearly the entire region as its territory.
Part of that message is a stronger partnership between the U.S. and regional allies like the Philippines, which has been butting heads with China of late. The John C. Stennis was about 70 nautical miles west of Luzon while Carter and Gazmin were aboard.
Plans for stronger military ties between the United States and Philippines were announced on Thursday, including a rotation of U.S. troops and aircraft into the Phillippines and joint patrols in the South China Sea.
“Carter also added that the United States and the Philippines have agreed to upgrade infrastructure at five locations in the Philippines. The U.S. has already released the first batch of money – $42 million – to support this program,” according to CNN.
Reuters reports the Chinese denounced these measures as reflecting a “Cold War mentality.”
A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said the new U.S.-Philippine patrols proved America was “the real promoter of militarization of the South China Sea,” and accused the U.S. of inventing the Chinese threat to freedom of navigation in the region, insisting that what the Americans really care about is their “military freedom of navigation and safety.”
“We have been here for decade upon decade,” Carter countered during his trip to Asia. “The only reason that question even comes up is because of what has gone on over the last year and that’s a question of Chinese behavior.”
“What’s new is not an American carrier in this region,” Carter said from aboard the Stennis. “What’s new is the context of tension which exists which we want to reduce.”
Carter declared, as reported by CNN:
There’s no question that there’s concern in the region about China’s behavior. The U.S. values peaceful resolving of disputes. The U.S. values freedom of navigation. Countries that don’t stand for those things will be isolated. That is self-isolation, not isolation by us. With respect to Chinese claims in the South China Sea and to all other parties, the American position is very clear, that these things should be settled peacefully and lawfully. We don’t take sides in them per se. We are on the side of peaceful resolution.
Gazmin, somewhat more bluntly, added that he expects the enhanced American presence will “deter uncalled-for actions by the Chinese.”
No aircraft carrier visit is complete without watching some flight operations:
— Peter Cook (@PentagonPresSec) April 15, 2016