China Views US Claims on South China Sea Militarization as Meddling

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. AAP

France and Britain will sail warships through the South China Sea to challenge Beijing's expanding military presence in the disputed waters, their defence ministers said on Sunday.

In response to a question from People's Liberation Army Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhuo criticizing USA freedom of navigation exercises, Mattis said these US actions were "a reaffirmation of the rules-based order".

The United States is willing to work with China on a "results- oriented" relationship, but Beijing's actions in the South China Sea were coercive and the Pentagon would "compete vigorously" if needed, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday.

But China has drawn increasing ire for the militarization of its islands, and the U.S. recently disinvited the PLA Navy from an global military exercise because of Beijing's "continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea" which "only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region".

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

"When it comes down to introducing what they have done in the South China Sea, there are consequences", said Mattis.

"I believe there are much larger consequences in the future when nations lose the rapport of their neighbors. eventually these [actions] do not pay off", he said.

"If the USA 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". Singapore has warned previously that countries should not be squeezed by competition between the US and a rising China, or forced to take sides.

In a blast from Britain's imperialist past, UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson has warned nations that they "must play by the rules" or face consequences, after announcing the deployment of warships to the South China Sea.

The U.S., he said, remains committed to ensuring free and open transit in the region.

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"Mattis' speech was negative", Zhao said in an interview afterward.

Trump said on Friday an unprecedented nuclear arms summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that the United States pulled out of will now go ahead as scheduled on June 12 in Singapore, adding another twist to a high-stakes diplomatic dance.

Delegates hoping for clarity on Trump's intentions for a scheduled June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim did not get much from Mattis, though he said the issue of the permanent deployment of about 28,5000 United States troops in South Korea will not be "on the table".

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

Mattis has tried to avoid weighing in on the summit, deferring questions to the State Department and Trump's national security team.

Mr Mattis said the Trump administration's recent decision to disinvite China from a multinational naval exercise was an "initial response" to Beijing's island activity.

CNBC reports his comment could refer to China's One Belt One Road policy, which calls for $1 trillion of investment in infrastructure and other projects along trade routes linking China to Europe, Russia, Central and Southeast Asia, and Africa.

Last week, two U.S. warships came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands - which are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan - and carried out manoeuvring operations. 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.

"Our objective remains the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".

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