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Pentagon Chief Criticizes China        05/30 10:07

   SINGAPORE (AP) -- China's land reclamation in the South China Sea is out of 
step with international rules, and turning underwater land into airfields won't 
expand its sovereignty, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told an international 
security conference Saturday, stepping up America's condemnation of the 
communist giant as Beijing officials sat in the audience.

   Carter told the room full of Asia-Pacific leaders and experts that the U.S. 
opposes "any further militarization" of the disputed lands.

   His remarks were immediately slammed as "groundless and not constructive" by 
a Chinese military officer in the audience.

   Carter's comments came as defense officials revealed that China had put two 
large artillery vehicles on one of the artificial islands it is creating in the 
South China Sea. The discovery, made at least several weeks ago, fuels fears in 
the U.S and across the Asia-Pacific that China will try to use the land 
reclamation projects for military purposes.

   The weaponry was discovered at least several weeks ago, and two U.S. 
officials who are familiar with intelligence about the vehicles say they have 
been removed. The officials weren't authorized to discuss the intelligence and 
spoke only on condition of anonymity.

   The Pentagon would not release any photos to support its contention that the 
vehicles were there.

   China's assertive behavior in the South China Sea has become an increasingly 
sore point in relations with the United States, even as President Barack Obama 
and China's President Xi Jinping have sought to deepen cooperation in other 
areas, such as climate change.

   Pentagon spokesman Brent Colburn said the U.S. was aware of the artillery, 
but he declined to provide other details. Defense officials described the 
weapons as self-propelled artillery vehicles and said they posed no threat to 
the U.S. or American territories.

   While Carter did not refer directly to the weapons in his speech, he told 
the audience that now is the time for a diplomatic solution to the territorial 
disputes because "we all know there is no military solution."

   "Turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the 
rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime 
transit," Carter told the audience at the International Institute for Strategic 
Studies summit.

   China's actions have been "reasonable and justified," said Senior Col. Zhao 
Xiaozhuo, deputy director of the Center on China-America Defense Relations at 
the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science.

   Zhao challenged Carter, asking whether America's criticism of China and its 
military reconnaissance activities in the South China Sea "help to resolve the 
disputes" and maintain peace and stability in the region.

   Carter responded that China's expanding land reclamation projects are 
unprecedented in scale. He said the U.S. has been flying and operating ships in 
the region for decades and has no intention of stopping.

   While Carter's criticism was aimed largely at China, he made it clear that 
other nations who are doing smaller land reclamation projects also must stop.

   One of those countries is Vietnam, which Carter is scheduled to visit during 
this 11-day trip across Asia. Others are Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.

   Asked about images of weapons on the islands, China's Foreign Ministry 
spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was "not aware of the situation you mention."

   She also scolded Carter, saying the U.S. should be "rational and calm and 
stop making any provocative remarks, because such remarks not only do not help 
ease the controversies in the South China Sea, but they also will aggravate the 
regional peace and stability."

   Carter appeared to strike back in his speech, saying that the U.S. is 
concerned about "the prospect of further militarization, as well as the 
potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or 
conflict." And he said the U.S. "has every right to be involved and be 
concerned."

   But while Carter stood in China's backyard and added to the persistent 
drumbeat of U.S. opposition to Beijing's activities, he did little to give 
Asia-Pacific nations a glimpse into what America is willing to do to achieve a 
solution.

   He said the U.S. will continue to sail, fly and operate in the region, and 
warned that the Pentagon will be sending its "best platforms and people" to the 
Asia-Pacific. Those would include, he said, new high-tech submarines, 
surveillance aircraft, the stealth destroyer and new aircraft carrier-based 
early-warning aircraft.

   U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who also is attending the Singapore 
conference, told reporters that the U.S. needs to recognize that China will 
continue its activities in the South China Sea until it perceives that the 
costs of doing so outweigh the benefits.

   He said he agreed with Carter's assertion that America will continue flights 
and operations near the building projects, but "now we want to see it 
translated into action."

   One senior defense official has said the U.S. is considering more military 
flights and patrols closer to the projects in the South China Sea, to emphasize 
reclaimed lands are not China's territorial waters. Officials also are looking 
at ways to adjust the military exercises in the region to increase U.S. 
presence if needed. That official was not authorized to discuss the options 
publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

   One possibility would be for U.S. ships to travel within 12 miles of the 
artificial islands, to further make the point that they are not sovereign 
Chinese land. McCain said it would be a critical mistake to recognize any 
12-mile zone around the reclamation projects.

   The U.S. has been flying surveillance aircraft in the region, prompting 
China to file a formal protest.

   U.S. and other regional officials have expressed concerns about the island 
building, including worries that it may be a prelude to navigation restrictions 
or the enforcement of a possible air defense identification zone over the South 
China Sea. China declared such a zone over disputed Japanese-held islands in 
the East China Sea in 2013.

   China has said the islands are its territory and that the buildings and 
other infrastructure are for public service use and to support fishermen.

    


(KA)


 
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