Published: Sun, June 03, 2018
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

Mattis warns China over 'militarization' of South China Sea

Mattis warns China over 'militarization' of South China Sea

During a question and answer session afterward, Mattis fielded a question from a Chinese colonel, who claimed that USA freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) are a provocation that violate worldwide law.

Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo, a PLA academic, told Mattis that United States freedom of navigation operations, where United States naval vessels sail close to Chinese-claimed features, are an "obvious provocation to China's national security and territorial integrity".

China's reliance on military muscle to achieve its goals "is not a way to make long-term collaboration the rule of the road in a region that's important to China's future", Mr Mattis said, when asked to elaborate. Airstrips have already been constructed, and in May, China landed nuclear capable bombers on contested islands in the area.

A Chinese general on Saturday, June 2, lashed out at "irresponsible comments" on Beijing's military build-up in the South China Sea after the USA defense chief accused China of intimidation and coercion in the disputed waters.

Last week, the United States disinvited China from the Rim of the Pacific exercise (RIMPAC), a major global maritime exercise scheduled for later this year, citing Beijing's behavior in the South China Sea. Parts of the sea are claimed by several nations in Asia; China says it has territorial sovereignty over almost the entire waterway.

US Defense Secretary slammed China for building up military presence on artificial South China Sea islands and threatening Taiwan.

Mr Mattis said the USA is willing to work with China on a "results- oriented" relationship, but Beijing's actions in the South China Sea were coercive and the Pentagon would "compete vigorously" if needed.

Speaking at a high-profile security summit in Singapore, the Pentagon chief also said the U.S. military continues to support diplomats pushing for the "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

Mattis also said that the United States will continue to expand and deepen its connectivity in the Indo-Pacific region. "So that's where the security threat comes from for them", said Mintaro Oba, a former US diplomat focused on Northeast Asia. China had participated in the exercise known as Rim of the Pacific in 2014 and 2016.

China believes islands, islets and other maritime features in the South China Sea are its sovereign territory and that it is within its rights to build defenses on them.

In Singapore, Mattis vowed to support US allies in Asia, "No one nation can and should dominate the Indo-Pacific".

Defense Secretary also emphasized the necessity of expanding cooperation, adding that he would not be wasting time going to Beijing at the end of June if he thought confrontation is the only option regarding relations with China.

He also reiterated that the Pentagon was committed to working with Taiwan to provide articles and services needed for its self-defence, comments that are likely to anger China. "So, when [Beijing] do (sic) things that are opaque to the rest of us, then we can not cooperate in areas that we would otherwise cooperate in", he said.

General Mattis said the Trump administration wanted a constructive relationship with China but would compete vigorously if necessary.

But "there are much larger consequences in the future when nations lose the rapport of their neighbors", he warned.

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