Tags: carter | china | sea | tension

Carter Warns China on Sea Tensions While Urging Conduct Code

Saturday, 30 May 2015 10:22 AM

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called for a diplomatic settlement of rival territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying China and its neighbors should agree on a long-delayed code of conduct for the waters before year’s end.

“There is no military solution to the South China Sea disputes,” Carter told a conference of regional defense ministers and military chiefs on Saturday in Singapore. “Right now, at this critical juncture, is the time for renewed diplomacy, focused on finding a lasting solution that protects the rights and interests of all.”

China and some Asian nations have used dredging to expand reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, an area that carries some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. In the Spratly Islands, a collection of several hundred reefs, atolls and islands named for a 19th-century British whaling captain, Vietnam has 48 outposts; the Philippines, eight; Malaysia, five; and Taiwan, one.

But Carter singled out China as a source of instability, saying its reclamation dwarfs what others have done. As China’s economic success translates into greater military power it has created 2,000 acres of new land over the past 18 months, in some cases hundreds of miles from its mainland, according to Pentagon estimates.

Carter was speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. At last year’s forum, Chinese and U.S. officials traded sharp words over the South China Sea, sparked by a speech by then-defense secretary Chuck Hagel.

‘More Balanced’

Still, Carter struck a more conciliatory note than in his speech earlier this week in Honolulu, where he vowed the U.S. would remain the dominant Asian power “for decades” and would continue to send warships and military aircraft through the disputed areas.

“His speech was more balanced compared with Hagel’s speech last year,” People’s Liberation Army Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo said on the sidelines of the Singapore forum. “America often uses a critical approach, it’s very unyielding,” he said. “It’s not solving the problem, it’s becoming part of the problem.”

Carter in his Singapore remarks “embedded his message in a much bigger regional picture -- the argument that everybody rises, everybody wins is smart because it is a parallel to the China argument of a common destiny,” Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University in Canberra, said on the forum’s sidelines. “He’s almost using China’s rhetoric against it.”

Mobile Artillery

Chinese officials describe their construction as largely aimed at civilian objectives such as search-and-rescue operations. In April, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said the new installations would also help the country’s defense in unspecified ways.

The U.S. recently detected two mobile artillery pieces on one of China’s reclaimed reefs in the Spratlys, Brent Colburn, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on May 28 in Singapore.

“One country has gone much further and much faster than any other,” Carter said. “And that’s China.”

The defense secretary said the island-building raises the risk of conflict in the fast-growing region. The U.S. had “deep concerns about any party that attempts to undermine the status quo and generate instability there, whether by force, coercion, or simply by creating irreversible facts on the ground, in the air, or in the water,” he said.

Status Quo

Addressing the Singapore forum, Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani called the pace of South China Sea reclamation “deeply regrettable.”

“There are attempts to try to change the status quo in the East China Sea as well,” he said. “I hope and expect that all the countries including China will behave as a responsible power.”

Carter said China and the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations should agree this year on a “code of conduct” for the waters. Negotiators have been working toward a pact for more than a decade without major progress, even as Pacific navies cooperate more to create rules of behavior when they meet each other at sea.

‘Deadliest Conflicts’

In his address to the forum on Friday, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also urged China and Asean to conclude the code soon, “so as to break the vicious cycle and not let disputes sour the broader relationship.”

That was echoed by defense ministers who spoke on Saturday from Cambodia to the U.K. and Malaysia.

“If we’re not careful it could certainly escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of our time,” Malaysia’s Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a speech. India Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh, talking on the sidelines of the meeting, said freedom of navigation was “fundamental to the world’s prosperity.”

Carter repeated his call for an “immediate halt” to additional island-building and militarization of existing formations. And he pushed back at Chinese claims the reclaimed reefs represent national territory.

“Turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit,” he said.

The Pentagon chief insisted the U.S. “has every right to be involved” in the region, rejecting Chinese claims that it is meddling far from home.

Shared Interests

In a May 29 commentary by the state-run Xinhua news agency, China accused the U.S. of inflaming its disputes with countries such as Vietnam. The editorial said U.S. actions “risk poisoning its ties” with China, the world’s second-largest economy.

The commentary also said, however, that the U.S. and China share interests in seeking a denuclearized Korean peninsula and reducing tensions with Iran.

Some U.S. officials, such as former Central Intelligence Agency deputy director Michael Morell, have made similar arguments.

“There are more global national security issues where our interests overlap than where they are in tension, creating opportunities to work together,” he wrote in his recently published memoirs.

© Copyright 2018 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called for a diplomatic settlement of rival territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying China and its neighbors should agree on a long-delayed code of conduct for the waters before year's end. "There is no military solution to the...
carter, china, sea, tension
Saturday, 30 May 2015 10:22 AM
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