South China Sea dispute: Beijing attacks 'irresponsible' USA comments

Casey Dawson
June 2, 2018

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has blasted China for "intimidation and coercion" in the South China Sea and strongly endorsed the "Quad" security grouping of the US, Australia, India and Japan as a way to bolster peace and openness in the Indo-Pacific.

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

Mr Mattis acknowledged that China's militarisation of islands was a reality but warned of further consequences.

"The U.S. will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, cooperation whenever possible will be the name of the game and competing vigorously where we must ... of course we recognize any sustainable Indo-Pacific order has a role for China", he said.

But he says the USA welcomes cooperation with China wherever possible, and says he accepted Beijing's invitation to visit there soon.

Mr Mattis, speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore, said: "Despite China's claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion".

"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".

China relying on muscle to use weapons to pursue goals not favored by worldwide tribunals " is not a way to make long-term collaboration the rule of the road in a region that's important to China's future", Mattis said, when asked to elaborate more on the consequences.

"This is our priority theater", Mattis said.

President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018.

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Earlier US Defence Secretary James Mattis said Beijing's actions called into question its broader goals.

Mattis said any discussion about the future of 28,000 US troops now stationed in South Korea "will be separate and distinct from the negotiations" with North Korea.

In a meeting with former President Barack Obama during a visit to the United States in 2015, China's President Xi Jinping denied the country had plans to establish military strongholds in the South China Sea. "Eventually these things do not pay off".

The U.S. canceled China's participation in the multinational RIMPAC naval drills after China confirmed reports the People's Liberation Army had installed missile systems on reclaimed reefs in the disputed Spratly chain.

On Sunday, two USA warships sailed close to the Paracel Islands in a long-planned operation created to challenge China's claims.

China has not sent high-level officials to the Shangri-La conference.

Instead, Mattis said any discussions about USA troops would be between Seoul and Washington.

Mattis only made a glancing reference to North Korea, reiterating that it was a diplomatically led effort and the objective remained the "complete verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula".

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

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