U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says he will visit an American aircraft carrier in the disputed South China Sea on April 15, a move almost certain to further anger China, which denounced U.S.-Philippine military cooperation in the region.
Carter's planned visit to the USS John C. Stennis carrier comes a day after he announced fresh military aid to the Philippines that triggered protests from Beijing, which has asserted its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
China claims much of the sea as its own and is building man-made islands there.
Carter made the announcement while speaking at the closing ceremony of joint U.S.-Philippines military exercises in Manila that included both sailors and Marines from the USS John C. Stennis.
China's Defense Ministry said in an April 14 statement that Beijing will "resolutely defend" its interests in the face of heightened U.S.-Philippine military cooperation, accusing the two allies of a "Cold War mentality."
"The joint patrols between the United States and the Philippines in the South China Sea are militarizing the region and are nonbeneficial to regional peace and stability," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
"The Chinese military will pay close attention to the situation, and resolutely defend China's territorial sovereignty and maritime interests," the statement added.
The ministry's comments came shortly after the April 14 announcement that Washington would send troops and aircraft to the Philippines for increased rotations and step up joint sea and air patrols with Philippine forces in the South China Sea.
"Strengthening the U.S.-Philippine military alliance, boosting front-line military deployments, and staging targeted joint military exercises is a sign of a Cold War mentality," the Chinese Defense Ministry statement said.
The South China Sea is believed to contain significant oil and gas deposits. The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia also have claims to parts of the sea, through which some $5 trillion in trade is shipped annually.