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American Forces Press Service

Carter Visits USS Stennis Operating in South China Sea

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2016 – Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited a symbol of American commitment to peace and security in Southeast Asia yesterday: the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

The Stennis is operating in the South China Sea. Carter is on an extended visit to the region.

The secretary flew to the Stennis via a V-22 Osprey from the Philippines.

"I get to give a message to the troops of how much we appreciate what they're doing out here to keep peace and stability in this region," Carter said during a news conference with reporters traveling with him.

Presence Sends a Message

The defense secretary said his presence was also a message to the Philippines about the strength of the U.S.-Philippine alliance and the U.S. commitment to the region. That message, he said, is "the United States intends to continue to play a role out here that it has for seven decades -- keeping peace and stability, which has allowed the Asian miracle of prosperity and political and economic development, each according to their own wishes to happen."

The visit to the carrier comes the day after Carter announced new aid to the Philippines. Chinese officials see this aid as a threat and see the U.S.-Philippine cooperation as leading to the militarization of the region, according to a release from the Chinese Defense Ministry.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea – an international waterway through which a third of the world's cargo sails. The Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia dispute these claims.

Artificial Islands

China has built artificial islands on various reefs in the South China Sea to bolster its claims. "In international affairs, disputes should be resolved peacefully, and not by changing the status quo unilaterally," Carter said. "And we're against that by any of the claimants."

U.S. officials have said repeatedly that the United States has no position on the rival claims, but that it wants the claims settled peacefully and legally.

"We want to reduce tensions, but we also want everybody in the region to be able to rise and develop in their own way -- including the Philippines, by the way, which happens also to be a longstanding and very staunch treaty ally of the United States," Carter said.

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