U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper reaffirmed the purposes of the U.S. naval force in the South China Sea, saying it was “not going to be stopped by anyone” in relation to the pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that threatens stability in the region.

Esper asserted that the CCP continued to engage in systematic rule-breaking, coercion and other pernicious activities while at the same time its military apparatus continued to exert aggressive pressure in the East and South China Sea.

As Business Insider reported, Esper said that while the CCP’s tactics in the area could change, it was still a necessity for the United States to be prepared.

“We hope the [Chinese Communist Party] will change its ways, but we must be prepared for the alternative,” he added. “We must uphold the free and open system that has secured peace and prosperity for millions and defend the principles that undergird it,” Esper said.

For Esper, the CCP should not deploy its maritime force in international waters and turn it into an exclusion zone for “its maritime empire.”

However, he also implied that the United States was not seeking conflict, saying its foreign policy was intended to be “constructive and results-oriented relationship with China and, within our defense relationship, to open lines of communication and risk reduction,” according to the South China Morning Post.

However, Esper said the United States was positioning itself to counter Chinese behavior and support U.S. policies. 

The same Tuesday, the United States deployed its ship the USS Ralph Johnson in an exercise in ‘freedom of air navigation’ near the disputed Spratly Islands. According to Business Insider, this provoked the offense on the part of the Chinese Communist Party.

“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan,” the Navy said in a statement.

“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas,” the Navy said.

The Global Times, a newspaper controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, reported earlier this month, “The South China Sea is fully within the grasp of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” saying that a false move by the United States would provoke an immediate response.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement, “Beijing’s claims of offshore resources in most of the South China Sea are completely illegal, as is its campaign of intimidation to control them.”

“The PRC’s predatory worldview has no place in the 21st century,” he added.