Secretary of Defense Mattis Threatens China With 'Much Larger Consequences'
Speaking at an international security forum in Singapore on Saturday, Secretary of State James Mattis warned the Chinese government of “much larger consequences” if it continued to militarize the South China Sea, CNBC reported.
Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Mattis told his audience that Beijing’s militarization of islands in the region “is tied directly to military use for the purpose of intimidation and coercion.”
China has recently installed military hardware on Hainan Island in the South China Sea — including jamming devices and anti-ship missiles — which has worried other nations both in the region and abroad.
“The placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purpose of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis told the conference.
The Spratly Islands are a disputed set of islands in the South China Sea which China has been militarizing, as well.
“China’s militarization of the Spratlys is also in direct contradiction to President Xi Jinping’s 2015 public assurances in the White House Rose Garden that they would not do this,” Mattis said.
In an interview with CNBC last month, a Pentagon official said China’s actions in the Spratlys were destabilizing the region.
“We have consistently called on China, as well as other claimants, to refrain from further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarization of disputed features, and to commit to managing and resolving disputes peacefully with other claimants,” the official said. “The further militarization of outposts will only serve to raise tensions and create greater distrust among claimants.”
At his speech on Saturday, Mattis said there would be no increase in military prestige or power for the Chinese by militarizing the islands, according to The New York Times.
The secretary of defense also defended American freedom of navigation operations through the South China Sea even as Chinese officials at the same conference protested them.
“We do not see it as a militarization by going through what has traditionally been an international water space,” Mattis said. “What we see it as, is a reaffirmation of the rules-based order.”
Mattis also said the United States had withdrawn an invitation to China participate in multilateral military exercises this summer because of its militarization of the South China Sea. While that was a “relatively small consequence,” Mattis said, “I believe there are much larger consequences in the future.”
Asked to elaborate, Mattis didn’t offer specific measures but said action would be taken if China continued its recalcitrance.
“There are consequences that will continue to come home to roost, so to speak, with China, if they don’t find a way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations who have interests,” he said.
Mattis added that he was open to cooperation with Beijing, but that the Pentagon remained committed to ensuring the freedom of navigation in the region.
“If the U.S. 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,” Mattis said.
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