Mattis accuses China of 'intimidation and coercion' in South China Sea

Mattis accuses China of 'intimidation and coercion' in South China Sea
© Greg Nash

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Trump says Gen. Milley 'last person' he'd want to start a coup with Overnight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill MORE on Friday accused China of deploying a strategy of "intimidation and coercion" in the South China Sea, vowing to "compete vigorously" with Beijing in the region when necessary.

Speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Mattis said China's placement of weapons systems, including missile batteries and military aircraft, at outposts in the disputed sea raised questions about Beijing's intentions. 

"Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion," Mattis said, according to Bloomberg News

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"China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes," he continued. "It calls into question China’s broader goals."

Mattis's comments came at a time of increased tensions between the U.S. and China, with the two countries locked in an ongoing trade dispute while Beijing has also continued to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea. 

Last month, China landed bomber aircraft on islands and reefs in the sea as part of a military training exercise.

On Sunday, the U.S. sailed two Navy ships near islands in the region claimed by China in Washington's latest challenge to Beijing in the sea. 

Mattis said on Friday that the U.S. would continue to "pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China." But he also said that Beijing's strategy contrasted sharply with that of the U.S.

"China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promises, it calls into question China’s broader goals," Mattis said, according to Reuters.