US allies in S. China Sea want expanded American presence in region – Pentagon chief

USS Lassen © Martin Wright
Tensions are flaring up in the South China Sea, as pro and anti-Western powers vie for the waters. American allies are now demanding an increased US presence in the area, despite China and Japan agreeing to talks.

The announcement that the US is expected to help Japan and other allies out comes from US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter shortly after an American warship came within just 12 miles of China’s claimed territories.

This has prompted strong criticism from Beijing, which put it in the category of “provocative acts.” The territory is amongst the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and according to Beijing, even a small incident could lead to all-out war.

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“The attention to disputed claims in the South China Sea, the prominence of those disputes, is having the effect of causing many countries in the region to want to intensify their security cooperation with the United States,” Carter was cited by Reuters as saying shortly before he headed to South Korea, ahead of the upcoming defense summit in Malaysia.

The latter will among other things center on developments in the South China Sea, “the most notable of which in the last year has been the unprecedented rate of dredging and military activity by China.”

The artificial islands created by China in the disputed territory host radar stations, runway strips and other installations. Beijing insists the facilities are used for peaceful purposes only. Moreover, China claims sovereignty over the islands and the 12-mile territorial waters zone.

In Seoul, Carter will meet his South Korean counterpart. The two will discuss the ongoing confrontation with aggressive North Korea, which has been flaunting its nuclear capabilities lately.

Later in Malaysia, Carter will meet with his counterparts in Southeast Asia, including China’s Chang Wanquan.

As this is taking place, China and Japan – who are strongly at odds with each other on a number of territorial and historical issues –agreed to discuss resource development in the East China Sea, according to the Japanese government’s top spokesman. The discussion was held with South Korea as well, in Seoul on Sunday. This was the first such meeting in three years.

According to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as quoted by DPA, “the trilateral cooperation mechanism is back on track.”

The three agreed they needed to propel forward negotiations over long-standing disputes, the largest of which centers on a group of uninhabited islands Tokyo and Beijing both claim for their own.

The trio released a statement, saying they are all interested in “facing history squarely and advancing toward the future.”