Mattis Calls Beijing’s South China Sea Military Moves a Coercion Attempt

Mattis Calls Beijing’s South China Sea Military Moves a Coercion Attempt”

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.

The retired general told the Shangri-La dialogue the recent decision to eject China from the Rim of the Pacific multilateral naval exercise was an initial and "relatively small" effect of Beijing's escalating activities in the South China Sea, which he said were a breach of a 2015 commitment by Chinese President Xi Jinping not to militarise island features in the territory.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says China's placement of weapons systems on manmade islands in the South China Sea is created to intimidate and coerce others in the region.

Reuters first reported that two U.S. Navy warships sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by China on Sunday.

He also told his Vietnamese counterpart, Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich, that the USA wants to sign documents to lay the ground for further cooperation.

"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", Mr Mattis said.

The military relationship between Vietnam and the USA has developed strongly in recent years, with the two countries putting the Vietnam War enmity behind them.

He warns that America's recent move to disinvite China from a multinational naval exercise this summer was an "initial response" to the militarization of the islands.

Speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Mattis said China's placement of weapons systems, including missile batteries and military aircraft, at outposts in the disputed sea raised questions about Beijing's intentions.

Woody Island, which China calls Yongxing, is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

He added that the status of US troops in South Korea was not on the table when Trump and Kim meet, but left the door open to the issue being discussed down the road between Seoul and Washington if certain conditions were met.

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". "This is our priority theater", Mattis said.

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".

There are now about 28,500 United States troops based in South Korea.

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