Washington: China's military expansion in the disputed South China Sea poses a growing risk to the region's prosperity and its actions could erect a "Great Wall of self- isolation", US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter has warned.
"China wants and enjoys all the benefits of free trade and a free internet, while sometimes restricting both as they apply to them," Carter said at graduation and commissioning at Naval Academy in Maryland yesterday.
In sum, on the seas, in cyberspace, in the economy and elsewhere, China has benefited from the principles and systems that others have worked to establish and uphold, he said.
"But instead of helping sustain those very principles and systems that have served all of us so well and for so long, instead of working toward the, quote, 'win-win cooperation' that Beijing publicly says it wants, China plays by its own rules undercutting those principles," he said.
"The result is that China's actions could erect a Great Wall of self-isolation, as countries across the region - allies, partners and the unaligned - are voicing concerns publicly and privately, at the highest levels," Carter said.
"Such a model reflects the region's distant past, rather than the principled future we all want for the Asia-Pacific."
He said in the disputed South China Sea and elsewhere, there is a growing risk to the region's prosperous future.
"China has taken some expansive and unprecedented actions in the South China Sea, pressing excessive maritime claims contrary to international law. Its construction - and subsequent militarisation - of artificial islands on disputed features far surpass all other land reclamation efforts by other nations there, combined," he added.
"And when other aircraft, ships, and even fishermen act in accordance with international law near these features, China tries to turn some of them away," he said.
China claims all most all of South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan fiercely contest China's claims.
Carter said the US is determined to stand with partners in upholding core principles, like freedom of navigation and overflight, free flow of commerce, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, through legal means.
"We are committed to ensuring that these core principles apply equally in the South China Sea as they do everywhere else because only by ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules can we avoid the mistakes of the past, where countries challenged one another in contests of strength and will, with disastrous consequences for humanity," he said.
Carter said America's focus on upholding principles extends beyond the maritime domain. For example, China wants its companies that depend on the Internet to flourish in the global marketplace so it can lift its people's prosperity.
"And yet, China's cyber-actors have violated the spirit of the Internet - not to mention the law - to perpetrate large-scale intellectual property theft from American companies. That's why the President has been determined to develop international understandings of behaviour in cyberspace," he added.