- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

As he heads to Singapore for a key meeting with fellow military leaders, Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters late Tuesday that the U.S. intends to challenge China on the high seas and will use its Navy to push back against Beijing’s maritime expansion.

Mr. Mattis vowed a “steady drumbeat” of American naval activity in and around the South China Sea in a direct pushback against China’s efforts to claim territory in the region. He declared that China is “out of step” with international law and is failing to respect international waters.

His comments came just days after two U.S. ships sailed within 12 miles of a group of islands in South China Sea that Beijing has claimed as its own, and the U.S. maritime maneuver was widely seen as a direct challenge to China and a clear statement that the American military won’t sit idly by.

“We are going out of our way to cooperate with Pacific nations. That’s the way we do business in the world,” he said. “But we are also going to confront what we believe is out of step with international law, out of step with international tribunals that have spoken on the issue, and part of this is we maintain a very transparent military activity out in the Pacific.

“There’s a very steady drumbeat of freedom of navigation operations. We’re very open about them,” Mr. Mattis continued.

The defense chief made the comments aboard an aircraft bound for Singapore, where he’ll attend an annual gathering of military leader known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Tensions over Beijing’s expansion into the South China Sea has driven a wedge between China and the U.S., and has led to direct retaliation.

The U.S. earlier this month, for example, withdrew China’s invitation to the biannual joint naval exercise known as the Rim of the Pacific drills, or RIMPAC. The move drew harsh condemnation from Beijing.

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