Washington: The US on Wednesday demanded an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation in the disputed South China Sea and asserted that turning an underwater rock into an airfield does not provide sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.
Along with many of its Pacific partners and nations across the world, America is deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea, the prospect of further militarisation, the potential for these activities which increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states, said US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter.
"As a Pacific nation, an ally and partner to many of the nations of the region from Japan to Australia to India, the US will persist in its decades-long strategic approach," Carter said, adding that America will continue to see a peaceful resolution of all disputes.
"There should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants. We also oppose any further militarisation of disputed features. We all know there is no military solution to the South China Sea disputes," he said.
"Right now, at this critical juncture, is the time for renewed diplomacy, focused on a finding a lasting solution that protects the rights and the interests of all. As it is central to the regional security architecture, ASEAN must be a part of this effort," Carter said, days ahead of the Chinese President Xi Jinping's first state visit to the US.
He said the US saw its relationship with China as defined by elements of both cooperation and competition.
"Our military engagement with China seeks to build sustained and substantive dialogue, to advance concrete, practical cooperation in areas of mutual interest, and to enhance risk reduction measures to diminish the potential for miscalculation," he said.
"At the same time, given our concern about China's growing military capabilities and coercive approach to disputes, we are taking prudent steps to prepare for heightened competition," he added.
Carter said the US will continue to protect freedom of navigation and overflight ? principles that have ensured security and prosperity in this region for decades.
"The US will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as US forces do all over the world. America, alongside its allies and partners in the region, will not be deterred from exercising these rights," Carter said.
"Turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit," he added.
He said China with its actions in the disputed sea was out of step with both the international rules and norms that underscore the Asia-Pacific's security and the regional consensus that favours diplomacy and opposes coercion.
"The US will always stand with its allies and partners. It's important for the region to understand that America is going to remain engaged?continue to stand up for international law and universal principles?and help provide security and stability in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come," Carter said.