Mattis accuses China of 'intimidation' in South China Sea

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U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis warned Saturday there could be an aggressive U.S. response to China's military presence in the South China Sea.

Mattis told Asia's biggest security conference Saturday that China's deployment of missile batteries and bombers to outposts in the disputed area was "a reality" the USA and its allies would have to deal with.

China's state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial that tension in the South China Sea was "due to the U.S. continuing to increase its military presence in the region, forcing China to naturally upgrade its defensive weapons on the islands".

China recently has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers and other equipment on the Spratly Islands, and landed a bomber aircraft at Woody Island.

"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", Mr Mattis said.

The U.S., he said, remains committed to ensuring free and open transit in the region.

There are now about 28,500 United States troops based in South Korea.

"I believe that what we are going to see is at some point in both Moscow and Beijing they are going to recognize the reality", Mattis said.

He noted however, that cooperation with China was "welcome when possible", promising to travel to Beijing soon as part of Washington's "constructive, results-oriented" cooperation strategy with China.

Mattis emphasized that the USA military wants more transparency from China.

The comments by Mattis, speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, come at a time of increased tension between the two nations in the South China Sea and highlight how President Donald Trump's administration is looking to balance Chinese cooperation on North Korea while dealing with Beijing's activities in the disputed sea.

China has a "sovereign and legal right for China to place our army and military weapons there", he said, "We see any other country that tries to make noise about this as interfering in our internal affairs".

Mattis' address in Singapore was the second time he had attended the summit since becoming Pentagon chief.

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

Despite He's admission, he batted back Mattis' accusations, saying that the "close-up reconnaissance" carried out by two U.S. warships - which sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands last week - was the real "source of militarisation" in the region.

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

"China's policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes", he continued.

China has not sent high-level officials to the Shangri-La conference.

The US wanted complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, he added.

But the message of inclusivity, cooperation and working with allies might be a tougher sell for Mattis, who is generally popular on the global scene, after his boss this week imposed metals tariffs on some of America's closest allies in the name of "national security".

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