US promise to defend PH ‘ironclad,’ Pentagon says

WASHINGTON—US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told his Philippine counterpart on Wednesday that Washington’s pledge to defend the Pacific nation remained “ironclad” and called for an end to land reclamation in the South China Sea, officials said.

In talks in Hawaii with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, the Pentagon chief “reaffirmed” the strong ties between the two countries and discussed the territorial disputes in the contested waters of the South China Sea, where Beijing has been at loggerheads with the Philippines and other states in the region.

Reaffirmation. US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter speaks before
an audience in South Korea in this file photo. The Pentagon chief
reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to defend the Philippines
in case it is attacked.
Citing Washington’s mutual defense treaty with Manila, Carter “stressed that the US commitment to defend the Philippines is ironclad,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

The meeting came as Carter embarks on a tour of Asia and amid rising tensions over Beijing’s massive effort to build artificial islands in the South China Sea.

In Beijing, China on Thursday accused the United States of threatening to sow “chaos” in the Asia-Pacific region by inciting countries whose territorial claims in the South China Sea clash with those of Beijing.

China is rapidly building artificial islands in the disputed waters, and Carter on Wednesday demanded an “immediate and lasting land reclamation by any claimant.

Beijing’s foreign ministry spokeswoman told a regular briefing: “If the major powerhouse of world economic growth is thrown into chaos, will that serve the interests of the American side?”

In Manila, the Department of Defense said China’s unilateral activities in the disputed areas  “are inconsistent with international law.”

“Actions that could lead to accidents and untoward incidents due to miscalculations should be avoided,” the department quoted Gazmin as saying.

Carter and Gazmin “agreed that all parties involved in the South China Sea should seek a peaceful resolution of the disputes, immediately halt land reclamation and stop further militarization of disputed features,” the statement said.

Manila has said it will keep flying over the disputed areas in the South China Sea despite Beijing’s warnings. And this month, the Philippines took part in a groundbreaking naval exercise with Japan, in a move aimed at countering a rising China.

Beijing has expanded its land reclamation work in the South China Sea at a dramatic pace in recent months, constructing man-made islands on top of reefs across a wide area to back up its territorial claims.

China insists it has a right to control nearly all of the South China Sea, including waters near the coasts of the Philippines, Vietnam and other Asian neighbors.

The Chinese military last week ordered a US Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane to leave an area above the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea. But the American aircraft ignored the demand and said it was flying in what US officials consider international airspace.

After his stop in Hawaii, Carter is due to visit Singapore, Vietnam and India in his second tour of the region since taking over at the Pentagon in February.

“Over the next 10 days, Carter will reaffirm the US rebalance to the Asia-Pacific,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said.

Washington has deployed more ships and aircraft to the Asia-Pacific region in the past two years and tried to strengthen its ties to partners in the area as part of its “rebalance” to Asia, which comes as a response to China’s growing military might. With Florante S. Solmerin

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