James Mattis warns Beijing over expansion in South China Sea

Geraldine Edwards
June 4, 2018

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis arrives to give an address at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, June 2, 2018.

Defense Secretary James Mattis is warning China there will be consequences if it continues its military buildup in the South China Sea.

He warned that America's recent move to disinvite China from a multinational naval exercise this summer was an "initial response" to the militarization of the islands.

In Singapore, Mattis vowed to support US allies in Asia, "No one nation can and should dominate the Indo-Pacific". China's Defense Ministry spokesman, Wu Qian, called the USA warships a "provocation" which violated worldwide laws, and blamed the United States for growing militarization of the region. "There are consequences that will continue to come home to roost, so to speak, with China, if they don't find a way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations who have interests". And he said he doesn't believe that China's actions will pay off. But Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, told reporters he believed that attitudes to China in the region are hardening.

Six countries have competing claims in the sea, but China has backed its own with island-building and patrols.

"That issue is not on the table here in Singapore on the 12th, nor should it be", Mattis said. It remains to be seen if that invitation will stand after this conference.

A Chinese military official dismissed the comments as "irresponsible".

Mattis has tried to avoid weighing in on the summit, deferring questions to the State Department and Trump's national security team.

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Both France and the United Kingdom will challenge Beijing by sailing through "territorial waters" in the South China Sea this week.

"It would be a lose-lose scenario for the world if the US and China are unwilling to work together for an inclusive system that both large and small states can benefit from, and where rules apply to all", Ng said.

Just hours after the U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the highly-anticipated meeting with the DPKR leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore is back on track, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis told a room that withdrawing or reducing military presence in the Korean Peninsula is not now an option.

China's presence at the Shangri-La Dialogue meeting that began Friday is being led by Lt. Gen. The summit is expected to be here in Singapore.

The US wanted complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, he added.

While the Sunday operation had been planned months in advance, and similar operations have become routine, it comes at a sensitive time and days after the withdrew an invitation to China to attend a major U.S. hosted naval drill.

The previous week the US had withdrawn an invitation for Beijing to participate in the exercise known as Rim of the Pacific. China had participated in these exercises in 2014 and 2016.

Last month the United States withdrew an invitation for the Chinese navy to take part in a training excercise called Rim of the Pacific because the Pentagon said it had strong evidence that China had deployed weapons systems on disputed islands.

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"It calls into question China's broader goals", Mattis said.

Last week, two USA warships came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands - which are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan - and carried out manoeuvring operations. It was the latest freedom of navigation operation created to challenge Beijing's claims. China protested the maneuver.

While the operation had been planned months in advance, and similar operations have become routine, it is believed to be the first time where two US warships have been used for a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea.

China has built artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, and the US military says there is a high possibility that China has installed anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, as part of military exercises.

Speaking at the same conference in Singapore, Lt Gen He Lei said, "Any irresponsible comments from other countries can not be accepted".

Washington does not have a claim in the South China Sea but regards it as an global 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.

In an exchange with Mattis, Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo, deputy director of the Center on China-US Defense Relations in the PLA's Academy of Military Science, said that sending warships into Chinese territorial waters was a violation of the country's law.

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