US defence chief decries Chinese 'intimidation'


China is guilty of "intimidation and coercion" over its military build-up on disputed islands in the South China Sea, the United States defence secretary has said.

FILE - Satellite imagery shows the deployment of several new weapons systems, including a J-11 combat aircraft, at China's base on Woody Island in the Paracels, South China Sea, May 12, 2018.

He Lei, the head of the Chinese delegation to the dialogue, said the islands were Chinese territory and it was "a sovereign and legal right for China to place our army and military weapons there".

Mr Mattis said Beijing had deployed a range of military hardware - including anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jammers - across the South China Sea, where it has built islets and other maritime features into hardened military facilities.

"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", he said.

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

But he also said that Beijing's strategy contrasted sharply with that of the U.S.

"The US will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, cooperation whenever possible will be the name of the game and competing vigorously where we must. of course we recognise any sustainable Indo-Pacific order has a role for China", he said.

Mattis also touched on Taiwan, a longstanding dispute between the USA and China.

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They met inside the Demilitarized Zone on the inter-Korean border, and "plan to have additional meetings this week", Sanders said. Trump told a group of reporters late Saturday that the effort to revive the summit is, quote, "moving along nicely".

Last month the United States withdrew an invitation for the Chinese navy to take part in a training excercise called Rim of the Pacific because the Pentagon said it had strong evidence that China had deployed weapons systems on disputed islands. China's Defense Ministry spokesman, Wu Qian, called the U.S. warships a "provocation" which violated global laws, and blamed the United States for growing militarization of the region.

Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo said a USA 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".

His comments come ahead of a planned June 12 summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "In the speech, Mattis laid out the broader US strategy for a "free and open" Indo-Pacific region". "This is not a revisionist view", Mattis said.

The Pentagon chief said the U.S. was "steadfastly committed to working with Taiwan to provide defence articles" consistent with the "obligations set out in our Taiwan Relations Act".

During his trip to Singapore, Mattis has been reluctant to discuss the summit preparations, instead insisting that the Pentagon is focused on backing up US diplomats leading the process.

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

Last month, China's air force landed bombers on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise, triggering concern from Vietnam and the Philippines. China protested the maneuver.

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

He did however, seek to calm nervous allies in the region.