U.S. will ‘compete vigorously’ in South China Sea, Mattis warns Beijing

This story is being published by POLITICO as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on scmp.com on June 2, 2018.

The United States will “compete vigorously” with China’s actions in the South China Sea if needed, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday, but insisted Washington was still willing to work with Beijing on a “results-oriented” relationship.

“China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promises, it calls into question China’s broader goals,” Mattis said at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

“The U.S. will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, cooperating when possible and competing vigorously where we must … of course we recognize any sustainable Indo-Pacific order has a role for China.

“Make no mistake: America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater,” he said.

Mattis’ speech came amid increased rivalry between China and the U.S., as Washington again challenged Beijing’s increasing maritime dominance in the region, mainly over its vast territorial claims and militarization of islands in strategic waters.

In recent weeks, China has stepped up its campaign with the deployment of advanced weapons and aircraft, including landing its nuclear-capable H-6K strategic bomber on a fortified reef in the Paracel Islands.

“Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purpose of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis said, adding that Washington would continue to support Association of Southeast Asian Nations members to maintain regional security.

“The more Asean speak with one voice, the more we can maintain the region free from coercion and one that lives by respect for international law.”

He said it was important for the U.S. to uphold alliances with Australia, New Zealand and India and insisted the U.S. was not asking smaller countries to choose between China and the U.S.

“China should and does have a voice in shaping the international system, and all of China’s neighbors have a voice in shaping China’s role.”

Mattis said also that the U.S. would continue to supply weapons to Taiwan.

“The department of defense remains steadfastly committed to working with Taiwan to provide defense articles and services necessary to…

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