Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will visit the Philippines and stop by two of the five sites where the U.S. will station some forces, including one bordering the disputed South China Sea, a senior defense official told reporters Saturday.
A new annex to a defense cooperation agreement between the countries will allow the U.S. to station temporary rotational forces there in the future, and the U.S. will devote military construction funds to upgrade those facilities, the official said. The official added that this will enhance the U.S. ability to operate in the region, especially over the disputed South China Sea and will present a strong deterrent message.
Asked if the Carter visit to the South China Sea area is meant to send a message to China about recent actions, the senior defense official said, "It's a message to the region about our commitment to peace and stability there. It's a message to the region about the continued importance we place on the South China Sea as a core American security interest, and it's about demonstrating to the Philippines our continued ironclad commitment to their security."
On concerns that China would see this as aggression, the official said, "I hope the Chinese will see this as a demonstration of our commitment to the Philippines and to security and stability in the region. If they chose to take further messages from that, you'll have to ask them."
The base where some U.S. forces will be is about 100 miles from the disputed Spratly Islands archipelago, which China claims and where it has built some airstrips and ports.
"We would like everybody to know how important the South China Sea is to U.S. security and how important continued stability there is to U.S. security. And we've made our views clear all along about our strong interest in peaceful resolution to these territorial conflicts," the official said.
Carter's visit to the Philippines is part of an Asia swing, which will also include India, and then he'll head to the Middle East. He will stop in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where he will attend a gulf leaders summit.