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Secretary of Defense has harsh words for China's oceanic ambitions.

Secretary Mattis, not often in the news, made some this weekend by notifying China that US would "compete vigorously" in the South China Sea, where China has built and armed islands in disputed ocean territory.  Several US allies or aligned nations, including the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, remain alarmed by the Chinese behavior. Secretary Mattis also said the US seeks "results-oriented ties" with China, and that he would travel to Beijing in June.


According to Reuters, concern is mounting in the region due to China's recent arming of these disputed islands, a new development.  As reported by Reuters:


Last month, China’s air force landed bombers on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise, triggering concern from Vietnam and the Philippines. Satellite photographs taken on May 12 showed China appeared to have deployed truck-mounted surface-to-air missiles or anti-ship cruise missiles at Woody Island in the disputed sea. “Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis said.


He Lei, the head of the Chinese delegation to the dialogue, said the islands were Chinese territory and it was “a sovereign and legal right for China to place our army and military weapons there.”



The US has to play a careful balancing role here, as it continues to need China to pressure North Korea and its nuclear ambitions.  At the same time,  the US cannot be perceived as giving Carte Blanche to Chinese actions elsewhere.