USA accuses China of 'intimidation' in South China Sea

USA accuses China of 'intimidation' in South China Sea

The comments by Mr Mattis come at a time of increased tension between the two nations in the South China Sea and highlight how President Donald Trump's administration is looking to balance China's cooperation on North Korea while dealing with its activities in the disputed sea.

The United States has once again accused China of militarizing the South China Sea to intimidate and coerce neighbors.

"Despite China's claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion", Mattis said at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue. "So that's where the security threat comes from for them", said Mintaro Oba, a former US diplomat focused on Northeast Asia.

He's comments were the first at such a public and global event to acknowledge Beijing's plans to base both troops and weapons on its natural and man-made islands in the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes.

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.

Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhou, of China's People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Sciences, suggested that the US response could also be considered militarization.

The U.S., he said, "will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, cooperation when possible, and competing vigorously where we must".

Andrew Yang, a former Taiwanese defence minister who is also at the security conference in Singapore, said he expected the United States to tread carefully on the Taiwan issue so as not to provoke the mainland into taking military action against the self-ruled island.

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Last month the U.S. 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.

"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", he said.

Mattis said this was just an "initial response". Mattis's comments appeared to be an attempt to reaffirm the USA commitment to Asia's security, even as President Donald Trump's decisions to levy tariffs on allies and withdraw from worldwide agreements raise questions about America's postwar alliances.

Last week, two U.S. Navy warships reportedly sailed near South China Sea islands over which China has territorial disputes with its neighboring countries.

"China's policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes", he continued. China protested the move.

Mattis has tried to avoid weighing in on the summit, deferring questions to the State Department and Trump's national security team. China has not sent high-level officials to the three-day meeting, in an apparent attempt to deflect attention from its campaign to expand its sovereignty across virtually the entire South China Sea.

Mattis also sought to calm nervous allies in the region.

"Our objective remains the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula", Mattis said.

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