Friday, 17 August, 2018

Mattis warns of 'consequences' if Beijing continues with 'intimidation and coercion'

China general slams 'irresponsible comments' on South China Sea South China Sea dispute: Beijing attacks 'irresponsible' US comments
Faye Gross | 07 June, 2018, 08:35

US Defense Secretary James Mattis has accused China of "intimidation and coercion" in the South China Sea, taking a tough stance on Beijing at a security summit in Singapore.

On the Trump administration's relations with US allies and neighbors, including the recent move to place tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, Mattis acknowledged there had been "some unusual approaches".

The Pentagon is planning to step up its program of so-called freedom-of-navigation operations close to Chinese installations on disputed reefs, two USA officials and Western and Asian diplomats close to discussions told Reuters.

"The US will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China".

He Lei heads China's delegation at an annual security summit in Singapore.

Speaking at a separate briefing, defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said they had noted that the United States had recently been "turning a blind eye to the facts and hyping up" the militarisation of the South China Sea.

His comments come in response to the increasingly fraught security situation in the Asian-Pacific, including the North Korea nuclear crisis and China's claims to the South China Sea.

The Pentagon cited evidence China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers to contested areas in the Spratly Islands, where China has built military installations on man-made islands. "It calls into question China's broader goals", he said.

Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhuo said a U.S. move to send two warships into China's "territorial waters" was a violation of law, and an "obvious provocation to China's national security and territorial integrity".

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The incident was the first time Donald Trump's administration challenged Chinese claims to the disputed waters but Mr Mattis' speech represents a step up in the war of words.

"All irresponsible remarks [on the subject] are an infringement of China's domestic affairs." he told a press conference just two hours after Mattis said in his speech at the event that Beijing had been "intimidating and coercing" its neighbours with its military activities in the disputed waterway.

Mattis made clear that the US does not expect nations to choose between the USA and China, adding that Beijing should have a voice in shaping the region, while allies have a voice in shaping China's role.

But the message of inclusivity, cooperation and working with allies might be a tougher sell for Mattis, who is generally popular on the global scene, after his boss this week imposed metals tariffs on some of America's closest allies in the name of "national security".

He said on Saturday that "to muscle their way in is not the way to make long-term collaboration in a region that is important to China", referring to China's "militarisation of artificial islands in the South China" and its competing claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan (region), Malaysia and Brunei over islands there.

The PLA navy is believed to be planning to link the 055s with its slightly smaller type 052 destroyers as part of its future aircraft carrier strike forces.

"Nations must also have the right to be free from coercion or criticism when they lawfully and reasonably communicate concerns about the behaviour of others", she said.

There are now about 28,500 United States troops based in South Korea.

Mattis also criticized China's "Belt and Road" initiative without explicitly naming the program, saying that Beijing has to rethink twice if they believe "piling mountainous debts on their neighbors and somehow removing the freedom of political action is the way to engage with them".

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