Mattis takes hard line on China in Singapore speech

US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis speaks at the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore. (Reuters pic

A Penatagon statement had said it had "strong evidence" that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers to the Spratly Island region of the South China Sea. An editorial in the state-run Global Times newspaper said the tension in the South China Sea was "due to the USA continuing to increase its military presence in the region, forcing China to naturally upgrade its defensive weapons on the islands".

"There is a real sense more needs to be done".

Williamson said the warships will outline the "critical" importance of defending freedom-of-navigation in the region during a speech in Singapore.

A more assertive Pentagon approach already appears to have started.

On Sunday, two USA warships sailed within 12 nautical miles of the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, drawing a sharp rebuke from China. While the operation had been planned months in advance, and similar operations have become routine, it came at a particularly sensitive time and just days after the Pentagon withdrew an invitation to China for a major US -hosted naval drill.

He also called his decision to not invite China to the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercise, slated to begin later in June, "an initial response" to its increased militarization of the South China Sea.

His comments come just 24 hours after US Secretary of Defence James Mattis warned China of "consequences" if it continued to militarise the South China Sea.

French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly and British Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson made the announcement while speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday.

In the name of "freedom of navigation", they sent military vessels and aircraft to the adjacent waters and airs of Chinese islands and reefs to carry out military activities and some even demonstrated muscles within 12 nautical miles of Chinese islands, he said.

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Gen He added: "We see any other country that tries to make noise about this as interfering in our internal affairs".

Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhuo said a US move to send two warships into China's "territorial waters" was a violation of law, and an "obvious provocation to China's national security and territorial integrity".

Vietnamese military officers say they are particularly concerned by the prospect of an ADIZ, saying it could threaten the integrity of Vietnamese airspace.

"Vietnam pursues a defensive and peaceful defense policy, does not take sides with one country against another country; does not use force for threaten the use of force", he said.

The current situation in the South China Sea has calmed down visibly as a result of the joint efforts of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, he said.

Malaysia and the Philippines hold some Spratlys features while Brunei claims waters straddled by China's so-called nine-dash line claim.

"By exercising our freedom of navigation, we also place ourselves in the position of a persistent objector to the creation of any claim to de facto sovereignty on the islands", Parly added.

"It's an example of the rules-based order in action", she said. China operates one carrier at present, while another is undergoing sea trials and others are believed to be in the construction or planning stages.

"They are not doing this to poke America or their neighbors in the eye but they are nearly certainly doing this to serve their long-term strategic objectives, whether that is projecting their military power or securing energy supplies".

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