US will be deploying its P8 Poseidon spy plane for the first time in Singapore this month in response to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen welcomed the move in a joint statement after a meeting in Washington on Monday, Reuters reported.
Further deployments in Singapore could be expected. The move comes at a time of heightened tensions in South China Sea, Reuters quoted an US official as saying.
China, which is at odds with Washington over the South China Sea, said on Tuesday the move was aimed at militarizing the region.
China claims almost the entire energy-rich waters, through which more than $5 trillion of maritime trade passes each year. The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
"I think this kind of increase in military deployment by the United States and pushing regional militarization does not accord with the joint long-term interests of the countries in this region," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
China believes that Singapore, like other countries in the region, wants to see a peaceful and prosperous Southeast Asia, she added.
The United States already operates P8s from Japan and the Philippines, and has also conducted surveillance flights from Singapore's neighbor, Malaysia.
The statement said the P8 deployment in Singapore would "promote greater interoperability with regional militaries through participation in bilateral and multilateral exercises, while providing timely support for regional HADR (Humanitarian and Disaster Relief operations) and maritime security efforts."
The United States and Singapore have long-standing defense ties and the announcement of the P8 deployment was part of an enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by Carter and Ng, which also covers cooperation in fighting transnational terrorism and piracy.