US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he will visit a US aircraft carrier transiting the disputed South China Sea on Friday, a move bound to anger China, which has been increasingly asserting its territorial claims.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.
"Later today, I will visit the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis sailing in the South China Sea after some of its sailors and Marines participated with you in Balikatan," Carter said during the closing ceremony of the joint military exercise "Balikatan".
"So far on this deployment, it has operated near the Republic of Korea, through the sea of Japan and Guam and now the South China Sea. With each Balikatan, with each cruise by the Stennis, with each new multilateral exercise, with each new defense agreement, we add a stitch to the fabric of the region's security network," Carter added.