SINGAPORE, May 30 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter criticized China for expanding a chain of artificial islands in the South China Sea, saying it is "out of step" with international rules.
Carter, speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue annual security gathering Saturday, said the U.S. would not shy away from confronting Beijing in its land grab and called for a "immediate and lasting halt" to its move to build islands on at least five tiny reefs to lay claim to vital shipping lanes.
"The United States is deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea, the prospect of further militarization as well as the potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states," Carter said.
Tensions are growing as China increases its land-reclamation efforts and builds artificial islands that could house military facilities. At the meeting with defense ministers from the Asian-Pacific region, Carter called for a "peaceful resolution," acknowledging that other countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan, have also made similar reclamation efforts but none as widespread as China's.
"China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined and more than in the entire history of the region. And China did so in only the last 18 months," he said. "It is unclear how much farther China will go. That is why this stretch of water has become the source of tension in the region and front-page news around the world."
Carter also announced a $425 million plan, he called a Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative, to be likely funded by Congress to help bolster maritime security among nations in the region.
The Obama administration has been reviewing options to contest China's land-building operations including deploying Navy ships or aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the islands. Carter did not specify how far the U.S. would go.