China was criticised for “unilaterally” altering the status quo in the East and South China seas at a regional security forum at the weekend, although envoys for Beijing argued their nation follows international law.
Defence ministers from the United States, Japan and Australia also voiced support for a ruling by an international arbitration panel last year that found in favour of the Philippines in its dispute with Beijing over ownership of the South China Sea.
Speaking at the Asia Security Forum in Singapore after the three countries held a trilateral meeting, US Defence Secretary James Mattis welcomed Beijing’s help in reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula, where North Korea has been ramping up testing of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. But Mattis tempered his praise with a rebuke to Beijing for stirring up tensions in the South China Sea, saying: “Artificial island construction and indisputable militarisation of facilities on features in international waters undermine regional stability,” Mattis told the forum on Saturday.
His Japanese counterpart Tomomi Inada levelled similar criticism against China in her 30-minute speech. Japan was concerned over changes to the security situation in both bodies of water, she said, implying China bore most of the responsibility, without directly naming the country.