Carter heads for carrier in South China Sea

Ashton CarterUS Defence Secretary Ashton Carter arrived in eastern Malaysia on Thursday, from where he was due to fly out to an American aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.

The official purpose of his visit was to highlight America’s shift of strategic attention toward the Asia-Pacific region.

But the move was likely to further rile Beijing amid a big-power confrontation over Chinese claims to the virtually the entire South China Sea.

Carter was to take the 30-minute flight from the Malaysian state of Sabah to the USS Theodore Roosevelt aboard an Osprey, a tilt-rotor aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter but fly like a plane.

Beijing is trying to bolster its territorial claims by turning reefs and tiny islets into full-fledged islands through reclamation.

Last week Washington pressed its right to freedom of navigation in the area by sending the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen to within 12 nautical miles of at least one islet in the Spratlys chain, a move that angered China.

The nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has been conducting routine operations in the strategic seaway and is not part of the “freedom of navigation” push.

It was not expected to go near any of the controversial islets during Carter’s three-hour trip, where he will meet with sailors and speak to the media.

On Wednesday, Carter attended an Asia-Pacific defence ministers’ meeting in Malaysia that ended on a sour note as the United States and China butted heads over whether a final joint statement should mention the South China Sea.

In the end, no statement was issued.

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