Mattis Accuses Beijing of ‘Intimidation and Coercion’ in South China Sea:

Mattis Accuses Beijing of ‘Intimidation and Coercion’ in South China Sea:

SINGAPORE — Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis harshly criticized the Chinese government on Saturday for its continuing militarization of a string of islands in the South China Sea, calling the new presence of advanced military equipment and missiles there a flagrant show of military power.

“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,” Mr. Mattis said during a speech on Saturday at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security conference.

Mr. Mattis recently disinvited the Chinese military from a large, multinational naval exercise this summer due in part to China’s positioning of those weapons, including antiship and surface-to-air missiles, on the Spratly Islands.

China’s activities, Mr. Mattis said, are “in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes,” calling into question “China’s broader goals.”

Mr. Mattis’s remarks come as the United States tries to navigate increased tensions with Beijing, even as the Trump administration seeks Chinese help in curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The Chinese military participated in the multinational exercise, called the Rim of the Pacific, in 2014 and 2016. Mr. Mattis called the move to withdraw their invitation an “initial response,” without specifying what additional moves the United States might be considering. He added that he was open to cooperation with China “wherever possible.”

“The U.S. will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China,” Mr. Mattis said, “competing vigorously where we must.”

On Sunday, two American warships sailed within 12 miles of islands in the South China Sea, in an attempt to assert the United States’ stance on freedom of navigation in international waters. China has laid claim to most of the South China Sea, in defiance of international norms.

Mr. Mattis tried to reassure allies in the region that the United States was committed to handling both China’s rapid expansion and the threat from North Korea.

“We are focused on modernizing our alliance with both the Republic of Korea and Japan, transforming these critical alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Mr. Mattis said, using South Korea’s formal name.

He also said the United States would continue to support Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as its territory, with military and other assistance.

Aaron L. Friedberg, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University and a former deputy assistant for national security affairs, said that Mr. Mattis’s speech was probably meant to ease American allies’ concerns not just about regional threats, but about President Trump’s oft-changing foreign policy.

“They don’t know what’s coming next,” Mr. Friedberg said. “There’s not much people even at Mattis’s levels can do about it.”

Mr. Mattis said little about North Korea in his speech, which came just hours after Mr. Trump said that the June 12 talks in Singapore with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, were back on. He said the American goal remained the “irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” In response to a question, he added that American troop levels in South Korea would not be on the agenda for the summit talks.

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s