Pacific deal focuses on S. China Sea status

From left Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Australia's Defense Minister Marise Payne

From left Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Australia's Defense Minister Marise Payne

China's placement of weapons systems on manmade islands in the South China Sea is created to intimidate and coerce others in the region, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday, laying out a sharp criticism of Beijing at an worldwide security forum and threatening larger consequences if militarization continues.

"The placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion", said Mattis.

The US and China appear to be headed for a more confrontational relationship in Southeast Asia as Washington warns of a more aggressive response to the militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Beijing's claims to more than 90 per cent of the South China Sea overlap with several of its neighbours' and in recent months it has expanded militarisation of its man-made islands in the resource-rich waterway.

Mr Mattis also touched on Taiwan, a longstanding dispute between the USA and China.

Despite strong mutual suspicions, the US had included China in the past two versions of the naval exercise known as Rim of the Pacific, in 2014 and 2016.

A French maritime task group, together with British helicopters and ships, will visit Singapore next week and then sail "into certain areas" of the South China Sea, French armed forces minister Florence Parly told the annual defence forum.

Mattis responded that the question reflected a fundamental disconnect with the way global tribunals have spoken on the matter.

In addition, USA officials are encouraging allies to increase their naval operations in the South China Sea to monitor Chinese facilities in the region. Trump's recent tariffs on steel and aluminum imports have targeted allies in Europe, plus Japan, Canada and Mexico, while the U.S.is engaged in an escalating war of words with China, risking a full-blown trade war.

"That issue is not on the table here in Singapore on the 12th, nor should it be", Mattis said.

Gen Mattis was speaking just 10 days before President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore.




In the name of "freedom of navigation", they sent military vessels and aircraft to the adjacent waters and airs of Chinese islands and reefs to carry out military activities and some even demonstrated muscles within 12 nautical miles of Chinese islands, he said. The summit is expected to be here in Singapore.

China's hostility towards self-ruled Taiwan has grown since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party won presidential elections on the island in 2016.

"I believe we should broaden this effort even further", said Parly, adding that Europe was mobilising more widely to support this endeavour and there were also German observers on board.

The Pentagon said the decision to disinvite the Chinese Navy was triggered by what it called strong evidence that China has deployed weapons systems on the islands, and called on China to remove them.

"This sounds like a case of a thief crying "stop thief" to cover their misdeeds", she said.

Speaking just 10 days before President Donald Trump is due to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Mattis also said the U.S. military continues to support diplomats pushing for the "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

China has also landed heavy bombers on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands.

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

"China's policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness that our strategy promotes, it calls into question China's broader goals", said Mattis, who said he would be travelling to Beijing this month.

Despite his criticism, Gen Mattis added that the United States would "continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China" with "co-operation whenever possible".

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