During an upcoming trip to Asia, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter will visit sites in the Philippines where the U.S. plans to station troops, including one base close to the disputed South China Sea.
CNN reported Saturday that the secretary would visit the base about 160 kilometers (about 100 miles) from the Spratly Islands archipelago, which China claims.
But Carter will not visit the key player in the dispute, China. He had accepted an invitation to visit Beijing after he met with the country’s defense minister last year. But when the Pentagon released details about the trip Friday, China was not included.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said a “complicated schedule did not allow for it [a stop in China] to take place during this trip."
Carter will also travel to India next week, followed by Middle East stops in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.
Beijing's more assertive pursuit of its claims over the past year or so has included land reclamation and the construction of air and port facilities on some isles and reefs.
In a speech Friday, Carter said countries in the Asia-Pacific region have been voicing concern about China's military actions, which he said "stand out in size and scope." He said those countries had expressed their concerns to the United States both publicly and privately, and at the highest levels.
He said that although the United States has disagreements with China, Washington is committed to working through them in ways that do not destabilize the region.
The secretary called the Asia-Pacific region "the single most consequential region for America's future."