Mattis warns of Chinese 'intimidation'; says US seeks 'results-oriented' ties

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wants to push the message that Washington is steadfast in its backing of the Asia Pacific regionMore

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wants to push the message that Washington is steadfast in its backing of the Asia Pacific regionMore

On Sunday, two USA warships sailed within 12 nautical miles of the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, drawing a sharp rebuke from China.

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

Jim Mattis said Beijing had recently deployed hardware including anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jammers as well as landed bomber aircraft in contested areas.

"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 at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue. "So that's where the security threat comes from for them", said Mintaro Oba, a former USA diplomat focused on Northeast Asia.

"The Chinese people and the Chinese government will never allow any person, any political party and any organisation under any name to separate any piece of Chinese territory from China at any time and in any form", Mr He said.

The Chinese government and the Chinese people resolutely oppose USA arms sales to Taiwan as well as any official contact with Taiwan and upgrading ties with Taiwan in any way, said He Lei, vice president of the Academy of Military Science of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

General Mattis said the Trump administration wanted a constructive relationship with China but would compete vigorously if necessary.

Andrew Yang, a former Taiwanese defence minister who is also at the security conference in Singapore, said he expected the U.S. to tread carefully on the Taiwan issue so as not to provoke the mainland into taking military action against the self-ruled island.

"So make no mistake, America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay", the secretary said at Shangri-La Dialogue summit. China's Defense Ministry spokesman, Wu Qian, called the U.S. warships a "provocation" which violated global laws, and blamed the United States for growing militarization of the region. Beijing has repeatedly warned the United States against sending warships to patrol the South China Sea.

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During his trip to Singapore, Mattis has been reluctant to discuss the summit preparations, instead insisting that the Pentagon is focused on backing up USA diplomats leading the process.

"We did not do freedom of navigation for America alone, we do freedom of navigation, give freedom for all nations, large and small, that need to transit those waters for their own prosperity and they have every reason to do so", he said.

"That issue is not on the table here in Singapore on the 12th, nor should it be", Mattis said.

Gen Mattis was speaking just 10 days before President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

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. China protested the move.

Though much of the world is focused on an upcoming summit between North Korea and the United States, this year's Shangri-La Dialogue has focused primarily on the region's long-term future and how to deal with a more assertive China. Trump announced Friday that the meeting was back on.

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".

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".

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