Defense Secretary Ash Carter, accompanied by Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, issued a subtle warning to China on Thursday in a news conference aboard the carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the South China Sea.
"This is has been a region which has enjoyed stability for a long time. It would be a shame if people here ruined that. And I don't expect that to occur because I think the United States will continue to play the role it has," Carter told reporters.
"A lot of people are flocking to us, wanting us to maintain that role. We intend to. The power of the TR is a reflection of that," he added, alluding to the carrier's nickname, "The Big Stick."
Carter's visit came after he attended a meeting of ASEAN defense ministers this week in Malaysia, which ended without a joint statement because of disputes over China's territorial claims in the area, which the United States and nearly all regional countries oppose.