Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the U.S. Navy on May 21.
This aerial photo taken through the window of a military plane shows the dilapidated Sierra Madre ship of the Philippine navy anchored near Ayungin Shoal with Filipino soldiers onboard to secure perimeter in the Spratly Islands on May 11.
A Chinese military official at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore countered that the country's actions were "reasonable and justified," the AP reported, and told Carter that U.S. surveillance and accusations were doing nothing to maintain peace and stability.
The AP wrote that Carter's remarks could be construed as also being directed at other countries in the region, including U.S. allies Taiwan and the Philippines, that have undertaken smaller reclamation projects in the South China Sea.
The European Union and Japan are expressing concern over China's escalating moves to claim sovereignty over disputed islands in the East and South China Sea, a day after reports that U.S. officials have spotted large artillery vehicles on a newly created artificial island in the Spratly chain.
In a joint statement from Tokyo and Brussels, diplomats said they "are concerned by any unilateral actions that change the status quo and increase tensions." Reuters says the statement was issued after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with European Council President Donald Tusk and other EU leaders.
"We urge all parties ... to refrain from unilateral actions, including the threat or use of force and coercion," the statement said.
"Latest surveillance photos of the five other reefs where reclamation work was discovered early [this] year now show an advanced stage of construction that clearly show a military facility being built there based on the configuration and the fixed structural design of the buildings.
"The Philippine military believes that no matter what pronouncement and declaration of China on the intended purpose of the reclamation, clearly it will support naval and air asset operations in the area."
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In recent months, the situation in the South China Sea has escalated dramatically amid the construction on the uninhabited islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines. Chinese workers are building lighthouses and weather stations there:
— The Philippines calls the dispute with China over islands in the South China Sea its most pressing concern. Manila's undersecretary for foreign affairs said his country was "focusing immediately on acquiring and building up our capabilities that we should have done before ... so we can protect what's ours."
— On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that: "U.S. imagery detected two Chinese motorized artillery pieces on one of the artificial islands built by China about one month ago. While the artillery wouldn't pose a threat to U.S. planes or ships, U.S. officials said it could reach neighboring islands and that its presence was at odds with China's public statements that the reclaimed islands are mainly for civilian use."
As The Associated Press notes: "The revelation comes as Defense Secretary Ash Carter begins an 11-day trip, including several stops in the Asia Pacific. He is slated to speak Saturday at an international security summit here, and is expected to reassert America's views that China and other nations must stop all land reclamation projects in the region."
— Also in April, Adm. Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, acknowledged that if construction continued on the scale China was pursuing, it "would give [Beijing] de facto control" of the maritime territory it claims.