SINGAPORE: The China challenge loomed large at the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s annual security summit, with US Defence Secretary James Mattis accusing Beijing of militarisation of artificial islands in South China Sea and warning it of serious consequences.
Taking a hardline stance on China’s expansionist agenda in South China Sea, Mr Mattis turned the spotlight on China’s use of “intimidation and coercion” in the Indo-Pacific and underlined that the US does not plan to abandon its role in the region. “Make no mistake: America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater,” Mr Mattis told the international strategic community in Singapore on June 2.
“If China does not find a way to work more collaboratively with countries who have interests in the disputed region, there could be large consequences,” said Mr Mattis, signalling a toughening of Washington’s stance on China’s activities in SCS.
Mr Mattis detailed recent actions by China to corroborate his claims about China’s militarisation of South China Sea islands. “China’s militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea includes the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers and, more recently, the landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island,” said Mr Mattis.
“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,” he said.
Militarizing features would never endorse a country’s standing in the world, he added.
Mr Mattis, however, kept the window of dialogue open for China as Beijing is planning to host him to deescalate tensions following the US sending two warships to SCS as part of freedom of operations. “We 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 said.
“Yet China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes. It calls into question China’s broader goals,” said the former four-star Marine Corps general.
Promoting freedom of navigation in South China Sea and rules-based maritime and international order figured prominently in India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s keynote address at the opening of the Shangri-La Dialogue on June 1.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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