‘Make no mistake: America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater.’
James Mattis accused China of “intimidation and coercion” in the Indo-Pacific and said the U.S. has no plans to abandon its role in the region.
The U.S. Defense secretary made the remarks during a speech to Asian leadership Saturday in Singapore, CNN and other news outlets reported.
Mattis specifically called out Beijing’s militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea, home to some of the world’s busiest cargo lanes.
“We are aware China will face an array of challenges and opportunities in coming years, we are prepared to support China’s choices if they promote long-term peace and prosperity for all in this dynamic region,” Mattis said, according to the reports.
“Yet China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes. It calls into question China’s broader goals,” he said.
The Mattis stance comes as the U.S. may need China to play a continuing pivotal role in any diplomatic changes with North Korea. And it plays out as separate U.S. officials continue to negotiate with China over the U.S. trade deficit with the world’s second-largest economy.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrived in Beijing on Saturday aiming to secure more Chinese purchases of U.S. goods and energy. He lands just days after Washington intensified pressure in its dispute with China, plus roiled Nafta and European Union allies with tariffs on metals that had originally only applied to China.
Trump has ordered the actions, he says, as a way to protect U.S. businesses and intellectual property, although he’s getting pushback from American business interests and, selectively, both political parties as U.S. consumers, wealthy relative to much of the world, can feel the sting of trade squabbles through bacon, smartphone and other purchases.
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