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US wonât use force vs China in sea row

On his first trip to Asia as secretary of defense, Jim Mattis ruled out a military response to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, but promised to continue with freedom of navigation operations to oppose Beijing’s occupation of disputed islands. AP/Eugene Hoshiko, File

US won’t use force vs China in sea row

(Associated Press) - February 7, 2017 - 12:00am

BANGKOK – On his first trip to Asia as secretary of defense, Jim Mattis ruled out a military response to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, but promised to continue with freedom of navigation operations to oppose Beijing’s occupation of disputed islands.  

“At this time, we do not see any need for dramatic military moves at all,” Mattis told reporters recently in Tokyo, emphasizing the need for diplomacy.

He said “freedom of navigation operations and other actions by the US forces in the South China Sea contribute to maintaining maritime order based on the rule of law.”

“Freedom of navigation is absolute, and whether it be commercial shipping or our US Navy, we will practice in international waters and transit international waters as appropriate,” he said.

China yesterday welcomed Mattis’ suggestion that diplomacy should be the priority in the South China Sea, and that major US military action was not being considered to contend with China’s assertive behavior in the area.

Speaking in Tokyo on Saturday, Mattis blamed China for “shredding the trust of nations in the region,” but also played down any need for US military maneuvers in the disputed territory and instead called for open lines of communication.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told journalists that Mattis’ emphasis on using diplomatic means of resolving the dispute was “worthy of affirmation” and that the situation there was normalizing.

Over China’s objections, US warships have deliberately sailed close to Chinese-occupied features four times since October 2015 in operations meant to enforce Washington’s position that the waters must remain open to international navigation.

China has repeatedly warned the US to stay away from the South China Sea disputes because it is not a claimant.

Mattis also explicitly stated that the Trump administration would stick to the previous US stance that the US-Japan security treaty applies to defending Japan’s continued administration of the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, which are contested by China and also known as the Diaoyu.

In response, China’s Foreign Ministry reasserted its claim of sovereignty over the tiny, uninhabited islands and called on the US to cease “making wrong remarks” over the issue.

In an editorial, the ruling Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times called Mattis’ statement on the South China Sea a “mind-soothing pill.”

“For, at the very least, it dispersed the clouds of war that many feared were gathering over the South China Sea,” the paper said.

The Philippine defense secretary doesn’t think the US and China will go to war over the South China Sea despite hardened rhetoric. 

 

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