Beijing admits to putting troops, weapons on South China Sea reefs

Pentagon will ‘compete vigorously’ with Beijing in South China Sea – Mattis

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis slammed China's militarization of disputed South China Sea islands, insisting that weapons systems recently deployed in the area are meant to intimidate and coerce Beijing's neighbors.

Mattis told Asia's biggest security conference Saturday that China's deployment of missile batteries and bombers to outposts in the disputed area was "a reality" the US and its allies would have to deal with.

"We do not see it as a militarisation by going through what has traditionally been an global water space", said Mr Mattis of the United States ship movements through the South China Sea.

Mr Mattis, speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore, said: "Despite China's claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion".

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

He's comments were the first at such a public and worldwide event to acknowledge Beijing's plans to base both troops and weapons on its natural and man-made islands in the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes. He said the American goal remained the "irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula".

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

"The U.S. 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. of course we recognise any sustainable Indo-Pacific order has a role for China", he said.

Mattis also talked tough on China during the speech.

"Make no mistake: America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay". 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.

Speaking at a high-profile security summit in Singapore 10 days before President Donald Trump is due to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Pentagon chief also said the USA military continues to support diplomats pushing for the "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearization of the Korean peninsula (see story on D1).

China's activities, Mattis said in his speech Saturday, stand "in stark contrast to the openness of what our strategy promotes; It calls into question China's broader goals".

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Mattis made clear that the US does not expect nations to choose between the USA and China, adding that Beijing should have a voice in shaping the region, while allies have a voice in shaping China's role.

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