Mattis: We're not asking any country to choose between China and US

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Mattis: We're not asking any country to choose between China and US
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, second left, and Philippines' Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana, third right, attend a bilateral meeting during the 17th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defense and security forum in Asia, in Singapore, Saturday, June 2, 2018.
AP / Yong Teck Lim

MANILA, Philippines — Washington is not forcing any country to choose between the United States and China, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said during a security and defense summit in Singapore.

In his speech, Mattis noted that Beijing's policy in the South China Sea stands in contrast with Washington's strategy of openness.

"To be clear, we do not ask any country to choose between the United States and China, because a friend does not demand you choose among them," Mattis said during the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue.

Mattis stressed that China's deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers and the recent landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island are tied directly to military use.

The Pentagon chief pointed out that Chinese President Xi Jinping reneged on his promise to former US President Barack Obama that China would not militarize the South China Sea.

The US, however, would still support Beijing's choices on the condition that they promote long-term peace and prosperity in the region.

"China should and does have a voice in shaping the international system, and all of China's neighbors have a voice in shaping China's role," Mattis said.

"If 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," he added.

Just last week, Beijing called out Washington for "playing up" the militarization of man-made islands in the South China Sea.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted to the remarks of Mattis that the US would continue to confront China's expanding militarization in the region.

"We urge certain people in the US to give up all the meaningless hyping up surrounding the situation and do more in a responsible way to enhance trust and cooperation between regional countries and promote regional peace and stability," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

China has deployed new weapons on its bases on Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef on the Spratly Islands, which are also being claimed by the Philippines.

The Philippine government, on the other hand, earlier said it would not meddle with the South China Sea dispute as it is an issue between the United States and China.

"Paulit-ulit po sinasabi ng president girian po 'yan ng dalawang bansa. Hindi po tayo makikisali sa girian na 'yan pero tayo po syempre ay nangangamba rin dahil ginagamit po natin 'yang karagatan na 'yan para sa ating kalakalan," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a May 21 press briefing.

The Philippine government, however, has recently filed a diplomatic protest against Beijing's installation of missile systems on the Spratly Islands.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella said that the Philippines would "continue to engage in very serious conversations" with China over the maritime dispute.

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