Mattis warns China over 'militarization' of South China Sea

The Paracel Islands in the South China Sea where Beijing has landed heavy bombers is also claimed by Vietnam and taiwan

He says Beijing is intimidating and coercing others in the region by putting weapons systems on man-made islands.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also said in a statement that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will lead the discussions and will be joined by U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, Under Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs David Malpass, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney, and U.S. Trade Representative Chief Agricultural Negotiator Ambassador Gregg Doud. It says military activities on the islands have been for self-defense purposes.

In Singapore, Mattis vowed to support US allies in Asia, "No one nation can and should dominate the Indo-Pacific".

Though much of the world is focused on an upcoming summit between North Korea and the United States, this year's Shangri-La Dialogue has focused primarily on the region's long-term future and how to deal with a more assertive China.

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.

He told the security summit that Beijing had deployed military hardware including anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jammers to locations across the South China Sea.

On the Trump administration's relations with US allies and neighbors, including the recent move to place tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, Mattis acknowledged there had been "some unusual approaches".

The US has, for years, agitated China by claiming a "freedom of navigation", sailing its warships and conducting flights near the disputed areas of the South China Sea.

He returned to a theme that he and other senior United States 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. He added that the status of USA troops in South Korea was not on the table when Trump and Kim meet, but left the door open to the issue being discussed down the road between Seoul and Washington if certain conditions were met."If the diplomats can do their work, if we can reduce the threat, if we can restore confidence building measures with something verifiable, then of course these kinds of issues can come up subsequently between two sovereign democracies, the Republic of Korea and the United States", Mattis said.

"It is those that are shouting about "the militarization of the South China Sea" who are militarizing the South China Sea," He added.

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Mattis's comments came at a time of increased tensions between the US and China, with the two countries locked in an ongoing trade dispute while Beijing has also continued to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

He said the USA remained committed to ensuring free and open transit in the region, a hub for shipping and natural resources beset by overlapping claims from China and several of its neighbors including Vietnam and the Philippines.

"We have seen those who wanted to dominate the region come and go, and we have been with you", Mattis said.

Speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asian security summit in Singapore, Mr Mattis said China's actions were created to intimidate and coerce other nations in the region.

A top Chinese general said China had the right to deploy troops and weapons "on its own territory".

The vice president of the Academy of Military Science also referred to "freedom of navigation" operations conducted by the USA military in the South China Sea.

"Any irresponsible comments from other countries can not be accepted", Lieutenant General He Lei said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

"They don't know what's coming next", Friedberg said.

The US Navy on Sunday conducted the latest of its "freedom of navigation" patrols near China-occupied features to demonstrate the right to sail through what it considers to be global waters.

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