U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday that the United States would be the primary security power in the Asia-Pacific region for years, and he demanded that China immediately stop island building in the South China Sea.
Carter said during a visit to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that all countries in Asia, including China, must stop militarizing their dispute over an island chain and settle it peacefully.
"China's actions are bringing countries in the region together in new ways," he said. "They're increasing demand for American engagement in the Asia-Pacific. We're going to meet it."
Carter said the U.S. would "fly, sail and operate" wherever international law allows.
China has been reclaiming land and building artificial islands in the Spratlys, a group of islands over which several Asian countries claim sovereignty, including China, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
But China, with its powerful military, has been much more aggressive in asserting its claim.
Last week, China ordered a U.S. Navy surveillance plane flying near the islands to leave the area. The Pentagon said the jet was flying over international waters and it refused to leave.