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Mattis warns China over South China Sea moves

04 June 2018

"We do not see it as a militarisation by going through what has traditionally been an global water space", said Mattis of the USA ship movements through the South China Sea. He Lei, vice president of the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science.

But speaking at the same conference, China's Lt Gen He Lei said: "Any irresponsible comments from other countries can not be accepted".

US Defense Secretary James Mattis accused China of "intimidation and coercion" in the Indo-Pacific and declared that the United States does not plan to abandon its role in the region during a speech Saturday in Singapore.

Reuters first reported that two US Navy warships sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by China on Sunday, prompting anger in Beijing, which claims most of the strategic waters where Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian navies operate.

Last week, media reported that two USA warships had conducted freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near the Paracel Islands, claimed by China, in the South China Sea.

Beijing's activities are "in stark contrast to the openness of what our strategy promotes; it calls into question China's broader goals", Mattis told a packed house of worldwide military officials, senior global lawmakers, experts and others on Saturday.

"I think all regional countries with the sharp eyes hope the USA can play a constructive role, and not be a destroyer but a contributor to the regional peace and stability", Hua said.

Gen Mattis said the Trump administration wanted a constructive relationship with China but would compete vigorously if necessary. Singapore has warned previously that countries should not be squeezed by competition between the US and a rising China, or forced to take sides.

Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhuo said a USA 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".

"Make no mistake, America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay, this is our priority theatre, our interests and the region's are inextricably intertwined".

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China's Defense Ministry on Thursday said it still hoped for a sound and healthy relationship with the US military.

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

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.

Mattis said that the United States will continue to provide arms sales to Taiwan, the democratic island nation that is being threatened by Beijing's rapid military buildup and increasingly aggressive posture.

His comments come ahead of a planned June 12 summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Mattis said the Pentagon will "hold the line" and support the diplomatic effort to secure the "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula".

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

But in a quick pivot, he said the USA welcomes cooperation with China "wherever possible", and announced that he has accepted Beijing's invitation to visit there soon.

Referring to maritime issues, including those in the South China Sea, Modi said his country did not see the region as a club of limited members.

Mattis warns China over South China Sea moves