- Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis met his Chinese counterpart Thursday to discuss a host of tense issues.
- The meeting focused heavily on the South China Sea, but tensions persist.
- Speaking with allies Friday, the secretary called on US partners to counter Chinese efforts to dominate the South China Sea.
- He doubled down on America’s determination to stand up to China, stressing, “We will not be intimidated.”
Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis called on America’s allies to combat Chinese efforts to dominate the contested South China Sea during a trilateral meeting in Singapore Friday.
“I think that all of us joining hands together, ASEAN allies and partners, and we affirm as we do so that no single nation can rewrite the international rule to the road and expect all nations large and small to respect those rules,” Mattis said during a meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, according to The Hill.
“The United States, alongside our allies and partners, will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand. We will not be intimidated, and we will not stand down, for we cannot accept the PRC’s militarization of the South China Sea or any coercion in this region,” he added.
Mattis doubled down on statements made by Vice President Mike Pence in a forceful speech at the Hudson Foundation earlier this month that came immediately in the wake of a showdown between US and Chinese warships.
“China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies,” Pence explained. He called attention to the recent showdown in the South China Sea as evidence of “China’s aggression.”
“A Chinese naval vessel came within 45 yards of the USS Decatur as it conducted freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, forcing our ship to quickly manoeuvre to avoid collision,” he said, describing a dangerous encounter that the US military characterised as “unsafe” and “unprofessional.”
The Trump administration has taken a hard-line stance against China, targeting Beijing for perceived violations of the rules-based international order. In the South China Sea, tensions have been running high as the US challenges China through freedom-of-navigation operations, bomber overflights, and joint drills with regional partners – all aimed to counter China’s expansive but discredited territorial claims.
A pair of B-52H Stratofortress bombers flew through the disputed South China Sea Tuesday in support of US Indo-Pacific Command’s Continuous Bomber Presence mission, which is notably intended to send a deterrence message to potential adversaries.
Mattis met with his Chinese counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe Thursday for an hour and a half on the sidelines of a security forum in Singapore. The talks, described as “straightforward and candid,” focused heavily on the South China Sea, but it is unclear if the two sides made any real progress on the issue.
“That’s an area where we will continue to have differences,” Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver said after the meeting concluded.
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