Pentagon uninvites China from maritime military exercise

Pentagon uninvites China from maritime military exercise
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The United States has rescinded an invitation to China to participate in a major international military exercise over Beijing’s military buildup in the South China Sea, the Pentagon confirmed Wednesday.

“The United States is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Pentagon spokesman Chris Logan said in a statement. “China's continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region.

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“As an initial response to China's continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the [Chinese] Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise. China's behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise."

The move was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Last week, China for the first time released video of a nuclear-capable bomber landing on Woody Island in the disputed South China Sea. That followed reports of China deploying anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles on the disputed Spratly Islands.

“We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea,” Logan said. “China's landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions."

An invitation to the exercise, scheduled to start in June, carries political clout, and the disinvitation is likely to heighten U.S.-Chinese tensions at a fraught time.

Though the South China Sea is the stated reason for rescinding China’s invitation to RIMPAC, the decision comes amid delicate trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing. It also comes a day after President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE appeared to hint he believes Chinese President Xi Jinping is playing spoiler in his planned summit with North Korea’s leader.

“I will say I’m a little disappointed because when Kim Jong Un had the meeting with President Xi in China, the second meeting — the first meeting we knew about — the second meeting — I think there was a little change in attitude from Kim Jong Un,” Trump said Tuesday. “So I don’t like that. I don’t like that. I don’t like it from the standpoint of China.”

China has participated in the last two RIMPAC exercises, which as the world's largest maritime warfare exercise includes around two dozen participant countries. The Obama administration’s invitations to China in 2014 and 2016, extended as part of a an effort to stabilize military relations, elicited some criticism in Congress each year as potentially allowing a competitor insight into the U.S. military.

In the Pentagon’s Wednesday statement, it accused Xi of going back on his promise not to militarize the South China Sea.

"While China has maintained that the construction of the islands is to ensure safety at sea, navigation assistance, search and rescue, fisheries protection, and other non-military functions, the placement of these weapon systems is only for military use,” Logan said.

"We have called on China to remove the military systems immediately and to reverse course on the militarization of disputed South China Sea features."