US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has left the country for Singapore where he will attend an Asian security summit amid growing tensions over the South China Sea.
Carter, who departed the US on Tuesday, is expected to participate in the talks which will primarily focus on what Washington and some regional countries consider as Beijing’s military expansion across the disputed South China Sea.
The so-called Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual meeting in Singapore, will be attended by defense ministers, military chiefs and defense experts from the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
Carter will also be joined by senior US military leaders, including Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson and the commander of US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris in Singapore.
During his lecture to graduates at the US Naval Academy on Friday, Carter said, “China has taken some expansive and unprecedented actions in the South China Sea, pressing excessive maritime claims contrary to international law.”
Beijing, in response, said, “Carter’s remarks reflected typical American style thinking and hegemony.”
“Although we have entered 21st century, some people in US still keeps the cold war mentality and cook up stories and seek or even create rivalry worldwide,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
China has slammed US military build-up in the South China Sea, saying it is Washington, and not Beijing, which is truly militarizing the disputed waters by conducting patrols and “freedom of navigation” operations there.
On February 19, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that patrols by US military aircraft and navy vessels as well as its joint military drills with regional partners are behind “escalated tensions” in the South China Sea.
“That’s the real militarization of the South China Sea,” the Chinese official added.
However, a Pentagon report showed last month that China has added more than 3,200 acres (1,300 hectares) of land to the seven features it allegedly occupies in the Spratly Islands archipelago, which is also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
During the Shangri-La Dialogue meeting, delegates are also expected to discuss the growing threat of Daesh in the region and North Korea’s nuclear program.