ABOARD THE USS JOHN C. STENNIS —
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited a U.S. warship Friday sailing in the South China Sea to emphasize U.S. commitment to security in that area.
Speaking to reporters on board of the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier, Carter said that the United States “intends to continue to play a role in keeping peace and stability in this region.”
The U.S. has said that it has increased its presence in the South China Sea and the broader Asia Pacific region to show support for allies and is not aimed at any one nation.
"It’s just a piece of a larger network of security that the United States is part of, and that’s the key to keeping peace and stability here and through the future here. That’s what we want for everyone, including China," said Carter.
There are about 5,000 sailors on the Stennis and about 75 aircraft including 50 F-18 fighter jets.
Commenting on a North Korean missile launch failure Friday that was meant to celebrate the birthday of the country's founder, Carter said that while the U.S. deemed the launch to be unsuccessful, it "was nonetheless another provocation by North Korea in a region that doesn't need that kind of behavior.”
The launch came as the two Koreas intensified their rhetoric amid Pyongyang's anger over annual South Korean-U.S. military drills that North Korea calls a rehearsal for an invasion.
Earlier Friday in the Philippines, Carter said at the closing ceremony for the Balikatan joint U.S.-Philippines combat exercise that the U.S. “will continue to stand up for our safety and freedoms'' and those of America's friends and allies.
He said activities like the joint military exercises were important to protect peace and security in the region.
Sailors aboard the USS John C. Stennis pause for a photo during a visit by US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in the South China Sea (C.Babb/VOA)
Carter revealed Thursday the U.S. military is increasing its presence on the archipelago with rotational forces and equipment. Carter said the first South China Sea joint patrol was carried out in March. Defense officials say a second joint patrol was completed in early April.
China protested Friday, saying the United States is taking a "lopsided approach" favoring China's rivals for territory in the South China Sea. It added nothing will shake its resolve to safeguard the territory it claims.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, and has aggressively carried out island-building and patrols in waters that are claimed by other countries.
Carter’s Friday visit is the second by the defense secretary to a U.S. warship in the contested waters. Last November he was on the USS Theodore Roosevelt as it sailed northwest of Borneo. During that visit, Carter acknowledged his stop was being noted because of tensions in the region over island disputes.