WASHINGTON: The US remains highly concerned with China’s continued militarisation in the disputed South China Sea and its “predatory economic behaviour”, Defense Secretary James Mattis has said.
China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and with Japan in the East China Sea.
Both the areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources. They are also vital to global trade.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the area.
The US has been conducting regular patrols in the South China Sea to assert freedom of navigation in the area where Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region.
“We remain highly concerned with continued militarisation of features in the South China Sea. Plus, we look at what we consider to be almost predatory — in some cases certainly predatory economic behaviour…,” Mattis told reporters on Monday travelling with him to Vietnam.
Referring to the major policy speech of Vice President Mike Pence last week, Mattis said the Trump administration seeks a relationship with China that’s grounded in fairness, reciprocity and respect for sovereignty. That means respect for international rules and for all nations’ sovereignty, whether they’re large or small, he said.
“So, we’re two large powers, or two Pacific powers, two economic powers. There’s going to be times we step on each other’s toes, so we’re going to have to find a way to productively manage our relationship. And the military relationship is to be a stabilising force in the relations between the two countries,” Mattis said.
Responding to a question, Mattis said the US is not looking for a confrontation with China. “We are not seeing a more military, confrontational approach vis-a-vis China,” he said when asked about the recent incident involving Americans and the Chinese in the South China Sea.
“In the South China Sea, over many American administrations, we have said that in international airspace, international waters, we will fly or sail. You’ve seen that continue. And my relationship with my counterpart has in no way changed over this,” he said.