Washington keen to build ‘principled security network’ in Asia-Pacific, says US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter
But his comments that China’s South China Sea actions are ‘self isolating’ draws scorn from PLA delegation at Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore
Washington wants to build a “principled security network” in the Asia-Pacific region and has called on China to play a responsible role in it, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter told a regional security forum on Saturday.
Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security summit in Singapore, Carter stressed that the US would remain the primary provider of regional peace and security.
“As we weave these bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral relationships together, it’s important to remember that this principled network is not aimed at any particular country,” he said.
“The United States welcomes the emergence of a peaceful, stable and prosperous China that plays a responsible role in the region’s principled security network.”
“Security is like oxygen,” he said. When you have enough, you pay no attention to it. But when you don’t have enough, you can think of nothing else.
“In the years ahead, as we continue to realise this brighter, principled future, providing the region’s oxygen will more and more become a networked effort.”
Carter said the US wanted to establish deeper ties with China despite their differences and that he planned to visit Beijing later this year. He called off a visit to Beijing in April amid rising tensions in the South China Sea.
“America wants to expand military-to-military agreements with China to focus, not only on risk reduction, but also on practical cooperation,” he said.
Carter added that the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) would hold a meeting in Laos in September to follow up their commitments to the Sunnylands talks in February.
The Sunnylands summit, the first of its kind held in the US between Washington and Asean, was seen as a snub to China. But Carter said the US-led network did not mean to exclude China.
Yet he also condemned China moves in the South China Sea as “provocative, destabilising and self-isolating”.
“China’s actions in the last few years [have been] destabilising, self-isolating and regrettable,” he said later while taking questions.
In his speech, Carter also repeated his earlier description of China’s rapid reclamation as an act of “self isolation”.
He said: “China’s actions in the South China Sea are isolating it at a time when the entire region is coming together and networking. Unfortunately, if these actions continue, China could end up erecting a Great Wall of self-isolation.”
The remark drew ire from the Chinese side.
Guan Youfei, director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the PLA’s Central Military Commission, told state broadcaster CCTV that the US accusations of China isolating itself were fabrications, when it was the US that meant to isolate China.
Guan also said that Carter mentioned the word “principled” more than 30 times in his speech.
“The US said security is like oxygen, but China just hopes the US can learn from history and just provide oxygen to the region, not war,” Guan said, in a direct snub to Carter’s earlier remark.
Wang Yiwei, a US expert at Renmin University in Beijing, said Carter’s remarks on boosting both bilateral and multilateral ties with Asian countries including Japan, Australia, India, and other non-claimants in the South China Sea disputes was Washington’s latest move to isolate a rising China.
Carter also called on China to respect international law and to abide by a ruling due soon by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague over a case brought by Philippines, which challenges the legality of Beijing’s “nine-dash line” that claims most of the South China Sea as its territory.
There was now a big opportunity “for China and the rest of the region to recommit to a principled future, to renewed diplomacy, and to lowering tensions, rather than raising them”, he said.