Published: Sun, June 03, 2018
Worldwide | By Angelina Lucas

Mattis takes hard line on China in Singapore speech

Mattis takes hard line on China in Singapore speech

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.

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.

Mattis's comments came at a time of increased tensions between the US and China, with the two countries locked in an ongoing trade dispute while Beijing has also continued to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

"It is for the sake of defending ourselves", he added, and warned Beijing would take "firm measures" if other countries sent ships and aircraft close to what it considers its islands in the South China Sea.

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

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

Gen Mattis said the issue of removing USA troops from South Korea was "not on the table" and that "our objective remains the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".

Mattis also struck at one of the key, longstanding disputes between the USA and China, telling the conference that America will continue to provide defense equipment and services to Taiwan and oppose any effort to alter the status quo.

Lieutenant General He Lei (L), vice president of the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science, and Hajit Sajjan (R), Canadian National Defense Minister, attend the first plenary session of the 17th Asian Security Summit of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2, 2018. China's Defense Ministry spokesman, Wu Qian, called the USA warships a "provocation" which violated worldwide laws, and blamed the United States for growing militarization of the region.

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"Co-operation whenever possible will be the name of the game and competing vigorously where we must. of course we recognise any sustainable Indo-Pacific order has a role for China".

Mattis' address in Singapore was the second time he had attended the summit since becoming Pentagon chief. "It calls into question China's broader goals".

Two US warships sailed close to the Paracel Islands on May 27 in the latest freedom of navigation operation created to challenge Beijing's claims.

Last week, the United States disinvited China from the Rim of the Pacific exercise (RIMPAC), a major global maritime exercise scheduled for later this year, citing Beijing's behavior in the South China Sea.

Mattis said there was little doubt about Beijing's intentions. China protested the move.

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

On the Trump administration's relations with US allies and neighbors, including the recent move to place tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, Mattis acknowledged there had been "some unusual approaches".

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".

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