Divisions within Asia over China’s claims in the disputed South China Sea spilled over Wednesday to a meeting of U.S. and Asian defense ministers, where China insisted the group make no public mention of the strategic waters in a joint declaration intended as a public display of unity.
As a result, a joint statement was canceled. Both host Malaysia and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter discounted the significance of the failure, which reflected a split with China and other Asian nations over the South China Sea issue.
“I had no expectation there would be agreement,” Carter told a news conference, adding that the important point was that the South China Sea was a “persistent topic” of the conference.
“Everybody raised it,” he said.
Carter defended U.S. Navy patrols in the contested waters that China objects to, saying the U.S. has been sailing in the South China Sea for decades to the benefit of regional security and economic prosperity. He said he planned to go aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt transiting the South China Sea on Thursday, accompanied by his Malaysian counterpart, Hishammuddin Hussein, as a symbol of the United States’ commitment to promoting stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.
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