Carter, Malaysian counterpart to visit USS Theodore Roosevelt
By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 4, 2015
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein will visit the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on Thursday as it passes through the South China Sea and conducts routine operations.
"The Teddy Roosevelt's presence there and our visit is a signal of our commitment to our rebalance and the importance of the Asia Pacific to the United States," Carter said Wednesday during a news conference at the conclusion of a meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations.
The visit carries heavy symbolism following a week of contentious exchanges with China over its buildup of man-made islands in the South China Sea. Carter’s presence on the carrier seems aimed at underscoring the U.S. position that China cannot keep the United States — or any other nation — from sailing within 12 miles of the built-up islands that China has said are its sovereign territory despite other countries’ claims to the contrary.
The United States is planning regular freedom of navigation trips through the South China Sea to contest China’s position, Carter said.
China has contested the U.S. stance, particularly the USS Lassen’s cruise last week within 12 miles of Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands.
At a news conference Wednesday evening, Carter was asked why the United States would risk further conflict by going in “heavy” by sending the Lassen to contest China’s claims, given the increased tensions in the area.
Carter said it is China’s construction on several of the Spratly Islands that has escalated the situation. He also downplayed the Lassen’s patrol and his planned visit Thursday aboard the Roosevelt.
“The presence of U.S. naval vessels in the South China Sea is not new,” Carter said.
On Tuesday, Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan warned Carter that China would take the steps necessary to defend its territory.