NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., Sept. 16 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday that China, which has broken a pledge to stop militarizing the Spratly Islands, is out of step with international norms and should suspend land reclamation in the South China Sea.
Carter made the remarks about Beijing's construction efforts during a talk at the annual Air and Space Conference at National Harbor, Md., where he said the Asia-Pacific region is a center of U.S. rebalancing efforts.
"This is part of the president's strategic rebalance, where we are working to align our security, economic, and diplomatic investments in the region to match our vital – and growing – interests," Carter said in a draft of his speech released in advance.
While "sustained and substantive dialogue" is necessary to cooperate with China, Beijing's growing military capabilities and "coercive approach" to territorial conflicts are a source of concern, he said. "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."
Satellite images from Sept. 8 published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., indicated China was building a third airstrip on Mischief Reef, a sign that China had broken its promise to suspend reclamation efforts.
Carter said the South China Sea disputes are at a "critical juncture," and renewed diplomacy, as well as a lasting solution, is key to peacefully resolving the international maritime issue.
Beijing, however, has taken a different approach. Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi has said the United States should not get involved in the territorial dispute over the South China Sea.
China's maritime activities also have placed its neighbors on guard, including Indonesia. The Financial Times reported Wednesday that Jakarta has asked China to change its "nine-dash line" that shows Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea. Indonesia claims a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone around the Natuna Islands.