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Defence & Aerospace

U.S. wary of possible China island fortresses in South China Sea

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, right, and Japan's Defense Minister Gen Nakatani shake hands after their news conference at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on April 8, 2015.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, right, and Japan’s Defense Minister Gen Nakatani shake hands after their news conference at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on April 8, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of Defence Ash Carter said the U.S. was concerned by China’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea and by the possibility that construction there has a military dimension.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani on Wednesday, Mr. Carter said the U.S. prioritises stability in the Asia-Pacific and wants to ensure “no changes in the status quo are made coercively and that territorial disputes, which are long-standing, are not militarised.”

China has embarked on a dramatic expansion of construction of artificial islands on disputed South China Sea reefs, which defence experts say could form a network of island fortresses to help China control most of the South China Sea. Chinese officials have defended the construction work as necessary and lawful.

The U.S. generally avoids taking sides in such matters but is concerned by China’s activities in disputed portions of the South China Sea, Mr. Carter said.

“While we don’t take a stand in any of those territorial disputes, we take a strong stand against militarisation of those disputes.”

Mr. Carter is in Asia this week for meetings with counterparts in Japan and South Korea, where his aim is to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to these alliances as China flexes more muscle in the region.

Messrs. Carter and Nakatani also discussed a review of U.S.-Japan defence guidelines, which is in the final stages and will be released later this month before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets President Barack Obama in Washington on April 28. The allies are reviewing these guidelines for the first time since 1997, with the goal of giving Japan a larger role in maintaining security in East Asia.

When the guidelines are completed, the U.S. and Japan will expand cooperation in missile defence, surveillance and maritime security, among other areas.

Messrs. Carter and Nakatani discussed construction of a replacement facility for the U.S. Futenma airfield on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. Mr. Nakatani said he and Mr. Carter agreed that relocating the base to another part of the island is the “only solution” to closing the existing facility, which is located in a heavily populated area. Many in Okinawa, including its governor, oppose construction of the replacement base in a less populated region and want to see the facility moved off the island altogether.

Source: Wall Street Journal – U.S. Wary of Possible China Island Fortresses


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