Washington, DC – President Donald Trump on Saturday reacted to remarks of the US Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis in Singapore, where Mattis criticized the military policy of China. Citing Mattis’ comments in a tweet, Trump said, “Very surprised that China would be doing this?.”
Addressing the 2018 International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue, Secretary Mattis said the Indo-Pacific strategy stands in firm support of America’s recently released National Defense strategy. Yet China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness of the US strategy, Mattis said, adding that it calls into question China’s broader goals.
“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. China’s militarization of the Spratlys is also in direct contradiction to President Xi’s 2015 public assurances in the White House Rose Garden that they would not do this,” said Mattis.
Recalling the change of stand to invite China to joint exercises, Mattis said, “For these reasons, and as initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea, last week we disinvited the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, as China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principals and the purposes of the RIMPAC exercise, the world’s largest Naval exercise, and exercise in which transparency and cooperation are hallmarks.”
Outlining a broader perspective of the US policies, Secretary Mattis stressed that the US was seeking to build an Indo-Pacific region where sovereignty and territorial integrity would be safeguarded and the promise of freedom fulfilled and prosperity would prevail for all. “(The strategies) take a clear-eyed view of the strategic environment, and they recognize that competition among nations not only persists in the 21st century, in some regard it is intensifying,” Mattis said. And both strategies affirm that the Indo-Pacific region is critical for America’s continued stability, security and prosperity, he added.
“In (America’s Indo-Pacific strategy), we see deepening alliances and partnerships as a priority. [The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’] centrality remains vital and cooperation with China is welcome wherever possible,” the secretary said.
“So, make no mistake — America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay,” he noted. “This is our priority theater; our interests and the regions are inexplicably intertwined,”Mattis said. “Our Indo-Pacific strategy makes significant security, economic and development investments.” The US strategy recognizes no one nation can or should dominate the Indo-Pacific, he said. “For those who want peace and self-determination, we all have shared responsibility to work together to build our shared future.”
Elements of Strategy Outlined
The secretary highlighted several themes of the strategy:
— Expanding attention on the maritime space: “The maritime commons is a global good, and the sea lanes of communication are the arteries of economic vitality for all,” he said. “Our vision is to preserve that vitality by helping our partners to build up naval and law enforcement capabilities and capacities to improve monitoring and protection of maritime borders and interests,” he added.
— Interoperability: The United States recognizes a network of allies and partners is a force multiplier for peace, the secretary said. “Through our security cooperation, we are building closer relationships between our militaries and our economies, all of which contribute to enduring trust,” he added.
— Strengthening the rule of law, civil society and transparent governance: “This is the sunlight that exposes the malign influence that threatens sustainable economic development,” Mattis said.
— Private sector-led development: The United States recognizes the region’s need for greater investment, including infrastructure, he noted, adding, “We are reinvigorating our development and finance institutions to enable us to be better, more responsive partners.
“US agencies will work more closely with regional economic partners to provide end-to-end solutions that not only build tangible products, but also transfer experience and American know-how so growth is high value and high quality, not empty promises and surrender of economic sovereignty,” he said.
US Stands Ready
The United States stands ready to cooperate with all nations to achieve this vision, Mattis said. As a Pacific nation, the United States remains committed to building a shared destiny with the Indo-Pacific region, he said, adding the nation offers strategic partnerships and not strategic dependence.
“Alongside our allies and partners, America remains committed to maintaining the region’s security, its stability and its economic prosperity — a view that transcends America’s political transitions, and will continue to enjoy Washington’s strong bipartisan support,” Mattis said.
Terri Moon Cronk of DoD News contributed to this report.