South China Sea: US to keep confronting China, says Mattis

31 May 2018

South China Sea: US to keep confronting China, says Mattis

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has vowed the US will continue to confront China over its territorial claims in the South China Sea, where Beijing has established a significant military presence on contested islands.

“You’ll notice there’s only one country that seems to take active steps to rebuff (such operations) or state their resentment of them, but it’s international waters and a lot of nations want to see freedom of navigation, so we will continue that,” Mattis told reporters as he flew to Hawaii.

The declaration from Mr Mattis comes after Beijing voiced “strong dissatisfaction” when two US warships sailed near the disputed islands on Sunday, causing Beijing to declare ‘provocation’ and defend sovereignty.

The US navy periodically conducts routine “freedom of navigation” in the contested waters, where China has built up military facilities as a way of showing rejection to any territorial claims.

Washington has continually expressed concern that China has not been transparent enough with their military build up.

“We are going out of our way to cooperate with Pacific nations, that’s the way we do business in the world, but we are also going to confront what we believe is out of step with international law,” Mr Mattis said.

The Sunday operation was prompted by Beijing flying nuclear-capable bombers to a disputed island in the South China Sea, a move which received immediate criticism from the US.

Last week was also marked by the Pentagon uninviting China to join US-hosted maritime exercises in the Pacific, because of China’s “continued militarisation” of the South China Sea.

“The concerns have come to me not just from American government circles, but also from foreign nations that are concerned, very concerned about this continued militarisation of features in the South China Sea,” Secretary Mattis said.

Mr Mattis was heading to Hawaii to attend a change-of-command ceremony for the US military’s Pacific Command.

The US has continued to maintain its view that there should be an increased freedom-of-navigation within the South China Sea.