China is expanding its military presence in the South China Sea in order to intimidate and coerce its neighbours, the US’s most senior defence official has claimed.
“China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness that our strategy promotes, it calls into question China’s broader goals,” said James Mattis, the US defence secretary.
“The US 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.”
The comments by Mr Mattis at a the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, highlight several things about the shifting dynamics in the Asia Pacific region, a part of the world where the US has long considered itself the dominant military power.
Amid China’s growing military and economic strength, and with the uncertainty about the US’s global role under the “America First” doctrine espoused by Donald Trump, things are changing.
With the US focussed on trying to broker a peace deal with North Korea, one that would satisfy its allies Japan and South Korea, Washington is also trying to balance how to make use of China’s diplomatic cooperation with its military and strategic threat in a part of the world where are least seven nations – China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Brunei – have competing claims.
Mr Mattis specifically highlighted Beijing’s militarisation of artificial islands in the South China Sea, home to some of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
Wilbur Ross on trade tariffs: Even if the EU retaliates, it won’t be as much as 1% on our economy
“Make no mistake: America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theatre,” Mr Mattis said, according to Reuters.
“We are aware China will face an array of challenges and opportunities in coming years, we are prepared to support China’s choices if they promote long-term peace and prosperity for all in this dynamic region.”
Mr Mattis, who also said the issue of US troops in South Korea was “not on the table” at the June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, spoke against a backdrop of growing tension between the US and China over trade.
Mr Trump has threatened to impose billions of dollars worth of tariffs on Chinese importance and China has threatened to respond in kind.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is currently in Beijing, trying make progress on the various demands the countries are making of each others.
Politico said that for the US, the focus was on narrowing the trade deficit, cracking down on China’s state backing of high-tech sectors, and protecting the intellectual property of US companies.
Meanwhile, China’s top priority was to persuade the US administration to back off harsh penalties on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, ease threats to impose tariffs and reduce export restrictions.
World news in pictures
1/50 2 June 2018
Palestinian mourners carry the body of 21-year-old medical volunteer Razan al-Najjar during her funeral after she was shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border fence on June 1, in another day of protests and violence. She was shot near Khan Yunis in the south of the territory, health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, bringing the toll of Gazans killed by Israeli fire since the end of March to 123.
2/50 1 June 2018
Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez poses after a vote on a no-confidence motion at the Spanish Parliament in Madrid. Spain’s parliament ousted Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote sparked by fury over his party’s corruption woes, with his Socialist arch-rival Pedro Sanchez automatically taking over.
3/50 31 May 2018
Zinedine Zidane looks on after a press conference to announce his resignation as manager from Real Madrid. He confirmed he was leaving the Spanish giants, just days after winning the Champions League for the third year in a row.
4/50 30 May 2018
A worker cleans up the Millenaire migrants makeshift camp along the Canal de Saint-Denis near Porte de la Villette, northern Paris, following its evacuation on May 30. More than a thousand migrants and refugees were evacuated early in the morning from the camp that had been set up for several weeks along the Canal.
5/50 29 May 2018
Police and ambulances are seen at the site where a gunman shot dead three people, two of them policemen, before being killed by elite officers, in the eastern Belgian city of Liege.
6/50 28 May 2018
French President Emmanuel Macron meets with Mamoudou Gassama, 22, from Mali, at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris. Gassama living illegally in France is being honored by Macron for scaling an apartment building over the weekend to save a 4-year-old child dangling from a fifth-floor balcony.
7/50 27 May 2018
Migrants wait to disembark from the ship Aquarius in the Sicilian harbour of Catania, Italy
8/50 26 May 2018
Ireland awaits the official result of a referendum that could end the country’s ban on abortion. Co-Director of Together For Yes Ailbhe Smyth speaks to the media after exit polls suggested victory for the Yes campaign.
PA Wire/PA Images
9/50 25 May 2018
Film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives at the 1st Precinct in Manhattan where he turned himself in to New York police for sexual misconduct charges.
10/50 24 May 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the Konstantin Palace in Strelna, outside Saint Petersburg, on May 24, 2018
11/50 23 May 2018
People protest outisde the Tamil Nadu House after at least 10 people were killed when police fired on protesters seeking closure of plant on environmental grounds in town of Thoothukudi in southern state of Tamil Nadu, in New Delhi.
ANI via Reuters
12/50 22 May 2018
People demonstrate in Paris during a nationwide day protest by French public sector employees and public servants against the overhauls proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, calling them an “attack” by the centrist leader against civil services as well as their economic security.
13/50 21 May 2018
Newly appointed Catalan president Quim Torra arrives to visit jailed Catalan separatist politicians at the Estremera jail near Madrid.
14/50 20 May 2018
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro casts his vote during the presidential elections in Caracas. Maduro was seeking a second term in power.
15/50 19 May 2018
Channelized lava emerges on Kilauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone on Hawaii. The USGS said on its website that “a fast-moving pahoehoe lava flow that emerged from fissure 20… continues to flow southeast,” with the quickest of three “lobes” progressing at 230 yards (210 meters) per hour.
AFP/US Geological Survey
16/50 18 May 2018
Santa Fe High School student Dakota Shrader is comforted by her mother Susan Davidson following a shooting at the school in Texas. Shrader said her friend was shot in the incident. Multiple people have been killed.
Stuart Villanueva/The Galveston County Daily News via AP
17/50 17 May 2018
French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meeting during the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria.
18/50 16 May 2018
People hold flags with the state coat of arms of Russia as they drive along a bridge, which was constructed to connect the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula across the Kerch Strait.
19/50 15 May 2018
Palestinians run away from tear gas shot at them by Israeli forces during a protest in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank
20/50 14 May 2018
A Palestinian demonstrator runs during a protest against the US embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Nakba at the Israel-Gaza border.
21/50 13 May 2018
A bullet hole on the window of a cafe in Paris, the day after a knifeman killed one man and wounded four other people before being shot dead by police
22/50 12 May 2018
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel looks on after receiving the ‘Lamp of Peace, the “Nobel” Catholic award for “her work of conciliation for the peaceful cohabitation of peoples” at The Basilica Superiore of St Francis of Assisi in Italy.
23/50 11 May 2018
Police forensics investigate the death of seven people in a suspected murder-suicide in Australia. Four children are among seven people that were found dead at a rural property in Osmington, near Margaret River. Detectives are investigating the incident, which was said to be treated as a murder-suicide, media reported. Two firearms were found at the scene, Western Australia Police said.
24/50 10 May 2018
Missiles rise into the sky as Israeli missiles hit air defense position and other military bases, in Damascus, Syria. The Israeli military on Thursday said it attacked “dozens” of Iranian targets in neighboring Syria in response to an Iranian rocket barrage on Israeli positions in the Golan Heights, in the most serious military confrontation between the two bitter enemies to date.
25/50 9 May 2018
Iranian MPs burning a US flag in the parliament in Tehran. Iran said it will hold talks with signatories to a nuclear deal after US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the accord, which it branded “psychological warfare”. President Hassan Rouhani also said Iran could resume uranium enrichment “without limit” in response to Trump’s announcement.
AFP/Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency
26/50 8 May 2018
Newly elected Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinian addresses the crowd in Republic Square in Yerevan. The leader of protests that gripped Armenia for weeks was named the country’s new prime minister on Tuesday, overcoming the immediate political turmoil but raising uncertainty about the longer term.
27/50 7 May 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin walks before his President inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow.
28/50 6 May 2018
Lava from a robust fissure eruption on Kilauea’s east rift zone consumes a home, then threatens another, near Pahoa, Hawaii. The total number of homes lost within the Leilani Estates subdivision thus far is 21, and geologists from the Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory do not expect the eruption to cease any time soon. A local state of emergency has been declared after Mount Kilauea erupted near residential areas, forcing mandatory evacuation of about 1,700 citizens from their nearby homes. The crater’s floor collapsed on 01 May and is since then continuing to erode its walls and generating huge explosions of ashes. Several earthquakes have been recorded in the area where the volcanic eruptions continue, including a 6.9 magnitue earthquake which struck the area on 4 May.
29/50 5 May 2018
Russian police carrying struggling opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a demonstration against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Thousands of demonstrators denouncing Putin’s upcoming inauguration into a fourth term gathered in the capital’s Pushkin Square.
30/50 4 May 2018
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at an event to mark Karl Marx’s 200th birthday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
31/50 3 May 2018
President Vladimir Putin meets with FIFA president Gianni Infantino in Sochi, ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
32/50 2 May 2018
Supporters of opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan protest in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia. Pashinyan has urged his supporters to block roads, railway stations and airports after the governing Republican Party voted against his election as prime minister.
33/50 1 May 2018
Cubans march during the May Day rally at Revolution Square in Havana.
34/50 30 April 2018
The sky is the limit: A Saudi man and woman fly over the Arabian Sarawat Mountains in the first ever joint wingsuit flight in traditional dress. A symbolic leap of faith towards women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia.
35/50 29 April 2018
A general view for the damaged railway station in al-Qadam neighborhood, after it was recaptured from Islamic State militants, in the south of Damascus. According to media reports, the Syrian army continued the military offensive it has launched earlier this month against militant groups entrenching in southern Damascus and captured several neighborhoods, including al-Qadam and al-Assali and targeting the remnants of armed groups in al-Hajar al-Aswad and its surrounding in Damascus southern countryside.
36/50 28 April 2018
Comedian Michelle Wolf attends the Celebration After the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Conservatives walked out after Wolf brutally ridiculed President Donald Trump and his aides during her piece.
37/50 27 April 2018
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in raise their hands after signing on a joint statement North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in raise their hands after signing on a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. The Korean War will be formally declared over after 65 years, the North and South have said.
At a historic summit between leaders Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-in, the neighbouring countries agreed they would work towards peace on the peninsula with a formal end to the conflict set to be announced later this year.
The pair agreed to bring the two countries together and establish a “peace zone” on the contested border.
Korea Summit Press Pool via AP
38/50 26 April 2018
Women hold portraits of their relatives, who are victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, during a commemoration ceremony in Kiev, Ukraine.
39/50 25 April 2018
Rohingya refugees gather in the “no man’s land” behind Myanmar’s boder lined with barb wire fences in Maungdaw district, Rakhine state bounded by Bangladesh. Myanmar government said on April 15, it repatriated on April 14 the first family of Rohingya out of some 700,000 refugees who have fled a brutal military campaign, a move slammed by a rights group as a PR stunt ignoring UN warnings that a safe return is not yet possible.
40/50 24 April 2018
President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, first lady Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron hold hands on the White House balcony during a State Arrival Ceremony in Washington.
41/50 23 April 2018
A boy walks on a pile of garbage covering a drain in New Delhi.
42/50 22 April 2018
Newly ordained priests lie on the floor as Pope Francis leads a mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.
43/50 21 April 2018
South Koreans cheer during the welcoming event for the inter-Korean summit between South Korea and North Korea in Seoul. The inter-Korean summit is scheduled on April 27, 2018 at the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, agreed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.
44/50 20 April 2018
A Palestinian slings a shot by burning tires on the Israel-Gaza border, following a demonstration calling for the right to return. Palestinian refugees either fled or were expelled from what is now the state of Israel during the 1948 war.
45/50 19 April 2018
Outgoing Cuban President Raul Castro raising the arm of Cuba’s new President Miguel Diaz-Canel after he was formally named by the National Assembly, in Havana. A historic handover ending six decades of rule by the Castro brothers. The 57-year-old Diaz-Canel, who was the only candidate for the presidency, was elected to a five-year term with 603 out of 604 possible votes in the National Assembly.
46/50 18 April 2018
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announces early presidential and parliamentary elections for June 24, 2018, at the Presidential Palace, in Ankara. Erdogan announced the snap elections, originally scheduled for November 2019, in a move that will usher in a new political system increasing the powers of the president. He said the new system needed to be implemented quickly in order to deal with a slew of challenges ahead, including Turkey’s fight against Kurdish insurgents in Syria and Iraq.
47/50 17 April 2018
European lawmakers raise placards reading “Stop the War in Syria” in protest against airstrikes launched by the US, Britain and France in Syria last week criticizing the legitimacy of the operation, as French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Macron is expected to outline his vision for the future of Europe to push for deep reforms of the 19-nation eurozone and will launch a drive to seek European citizens’ opinions on the European Union’s future.
48/50 16 April 2018
People participate in a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua near Jammu, and a teenager in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh state, in Bangalore, India
49/50 15 April 2018
Fireworks are set off as the final performance takes place during the Closing Ceremony for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
50/50 14 April 2018
The wreckage of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, after the United States, UK and France launched strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime early on April 14 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack after mulling military action for nearly a week. Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, “destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre”
Last month, China’s air force landed bombers on the disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise, triggering concern from Vietnam and the Philippines.
Satellite images showed that China had landed bombers on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands, prompting US claims it was destabilising the region.
“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,” Mr Mattis said.
Reuters said that Lt Gen He Lei, the head of the Chinese delegation, said the islands were Chinese territory and it was “a sovereign and legal right for China to place our army and military weapons there”. He also suggested Mr Mattis’ comments were “irresponsible” and would not be accepted.
“We see any other country that tries to make noise about this as interfering in our internal affairs,” said Mr He, deputy president of the Academy of Military Sciences at the People’s Liberation Army.