A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.
XI ASSERTS TERRITORIAL CLAIMS IN MEETING WITH US DEFENSE SECRETARY
Chinese President Xi Jinping strongly asserted China's determination to defend territory it claims, including in the South China Sea, in a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
While the tone of Mattis' visit to Beijing was largely upbeat, Xi made sure to reinforce his reputation as a fervent nationalist when it comes to issues of sovereignty.
Though Xi gave no specifics in his statement, he was largely seen as indicating the South China Sea as well as self-governing Taiwan. China also claims territory held by India and uninhabited East China Sea islands controlled by Japan.
"Regarding the issue of China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, our attitude is firm and clear," state broadcaster CCTV quoted Xi as telling Mattis on Wednesday at the Great Hall of the People. "Not a single inch of the territory left behind by our ancestors must be lost, while we are not seeking to take any bit of what belongs to others."
Randy Schriver, assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said Mattis made U.S. positions clear, including its longstanding and widely shared opposition to China's militarization in the South China Sea.
"It's not for one country to diminish what are international rights for navigation as defined in international waters," Schriver said.
Mattis said the Trump administration's decision to disinvite China from a multinational naval exercise this summer was an "initial response" to Beijing's activity in the South China Sea. Mattis called the U.S. action a "relatively small consequence. I believe there are much larger consequences in the future."
U.S. DEPLOYS THIRD CARRIER TO PATROL SOUTH CHINA SEA
The U.S. military has deployed the third aircraft carrier this year to patrol the South China Sea, where Washington has criticized China's military buildup on new manmade islands.
The 97,000-ton USS Ronald Reagan, carrying more than 70 aircraft, anchored in Manila Bay on Tuesday for meetings between navy officials of the two countries and vacation for its thousands of sailors after weeks at sea.
The U.S. military presence in the region "promotes our ability to safeguard freedom of the seas, unimpeded commerce, to deter conflict and coercion and to promote adherence to rules-based international order," Rear Adm. Marc Dalton told reporters on board the ship.
Two other American carriers earlier patrolled the waterway.
China has reportedly deployed anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles, along with electronic jammers and other equipment, on islands it built on disputed reefs in the Spratly Islands, some of which have runways.
It also landed a bomber aircraft on Woody Island in the Paracels group, sparking alarm among rival claimants and the United States. Washington has no territorial claims in the region but has declared that freedom of navigation and overflight in the waters is in U.S. national interest.