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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Shangri-La and the South China Sea

May 29, 2015

Defense Ministers and military chiefs from the Asia Pacific are meeting in Singapore over the weekend to discuss the region’s most pressing security issues. The Asia Security Summit, better known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, will have a great influence on stability in the region. This year’s talks are taking place at a crucial time with territorial disputes heating up.

US defense secretary Ash Carter is attending as well as Sun Jianguo, a senior admiral in the People’s Liberation Army. China has rejected US demands to stop reclamation work in the South China Sea and the dispute is expected to be a main focus of the summit.

The South China Sea is rich in natural resources. It’s also an important shipping lane.

In the group of islands known as the Spratlys, six parties say they have sovereignty over some or all of the islands. China has been begun reclaiming land in the Spratlys. Construction activities in the last 6 months appear to include a landing strip that could be used for military operations. China says the construction is mainly for civilian purposes and will benefit all countries in the region.

“The relevant construction is being conducted within China’s sovereign territory,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said. “It is reasonable, understandable and legal, and it is not targeting or affecting any other country."

The US military has been increasing its reconnaissance flights in the area. American officials have hinted they could send naval vessels to waters that China claims.

"We do unapologetically stand up for the equitable and peaceful resolution of disputes and for the freedom of navigation,” US Vice President Joe Biden said. “And today, these principles are being tested by Chinese activities.”

China released a white paper criticizing countries outside the area for interfering in regional disputes.

"The Chinese military will take necessary measures toward US military aircraft that are conducting reconnaissance activities near China, in accordance with the law,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun said.