Published: Sun, June 03, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

China general slams 'irresponsible comments' on South China Sea

US Defence Secretary James Mattis has raised the prospect of additional American steps against China if its "militarisation" of the South China Sea keeps apace.

He called the USA action a "relatively small consequence".

Mattis also said the United States welcomed cooperation with China and said he had accepted Beijing's invitation to visit there soon.

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

"What we have seen in the last few weeks is just the start, significantly more is being planned", said one Western diplomat, referring to a freedom of navigation patrol late last month that used two USA ships for the first time.

"This is not a revisionist view", Mattis said.

"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 reportedly said during a speech on Saturday at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security conference.

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

The defence secretary also confirmed the Pentagon was keen to help Taiwan defend itself, in comments that were likely to further anger China, which also claims the island.

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Still, he refused to say whether the North agreed to the U.S. demand for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. Mr Trump made the announcement after talks with a senior North Korean envoy at the White House.

"So make no mistake, America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay", the secretary said at Shangri-La Dialogue summit.

Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhuo said a US move a couple years ago 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".

Mattis responded by saying there is a "fundamental disconnect" between China's views on the waters and how worldwide tribunals view them.

The comments came on the heels of a string of events that highlight tension between the world's two biggest economies over the South China Sea's disputed waters. "What we see it as, is a reaffirmation of the rules-based order".

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 U.S. troops in South Korea will not be "on the table".

Mattis has tried to avoid weighing in on the summit, deferring questions to the State Department and Trump's national security team. The summit is expected to be here in Singapore.

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 denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula".

While the operation had been planned months in advance, and similar operations have become routine, it comes at a particularly sensitive time and just days after the Pentagon disinvited China from a major US-hosted naval drill. China had participated in the exercise known as Rim of the Pacific in 2014 and 2016. "It calls into question China's broader goals", Mattis said. China says it is within its rights to build up defenses on islands in the South China Sea that it believes are its sovereign territory.

The U.S. Navy on Sunday conducted the latest of its "freedom of navigation" patrols near China-occupied features to demonstrate the right to sail through what it considers to be global waters.

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