China general slams 'irresponsible comments' on S. China Sea

Mattis takes hard line on China in Singapore speech

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Saturday raised the prospect of additional American steps against China if its "militarization" of the South China Sea keeps apace.

He called the United States action a "relatively small consequence".

He added there would be "consequences" if China does "not find the way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations who have interest".

Mr Mattis said maintaining freedom of navigation in the region was...

The U.S., he said, remains committed to ensuring free and open transit in the region. -China relations, as the Trump administration is warily asking for China's help with North Korea ahead of a June 12 summit, while also threatening a trade war.

Mattis said this was just an "initial response".

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"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", Mattis told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

China has sent a relatively low-level delegation to this year's Shangri-La forum, and there is now no Chinese official scheduled to give the traditional Sunday speech to the gathering, in what had become an outlet for a riposte to the U.S.

"The US will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China".

He returned to a theme that he and other senior USA officials have hammered home since Trump took office-that America is here to stay in the Asia-Pacific region and that allies should stick with Washington instead of aligning with Beijing.

"We do not see it as a militarization by going through what has traditionally been an global water space", said Mattis of the USA ship movements through the South China Sea.

"What we see it as, is a reaffirmation of the rules-based order".

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Two U.S. warships sailed close to the Paracel Islands on May 27 in the latest freedom of navigation operation created to challenge Beijing's claims. China protested the maneuver.

Last week the US withdrew an invitation for Beijing to participate the exercise known as Rim of the Pacific. Airstrips have already been constructed, and in May, China landed nuclear capable bombers on contested islands in the area. He Lei, a deputy president of the Academy of Military Sciences at the People's Liberation Army, headed the Chinese delegation to the Shangri-La Dialogue, and said the disputed islands in the South China Sea are Chinese territory. China asserts ownership and control of more than 80 percent of the South China Sea, a $5 trillion-a-year shipping route where five other countries including the Philippines and Vietnam have claims.

President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018.

Mattis has tried to avoid weighing in on the summit, deferring questions to the State Department and Trump's national security team.

Mr Mattis only made a glancing reference to North Korea, reiterating that it was a diplomatically led effort and the objective remained the "complete verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula".

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