- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2019

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan on Friday night delivered a stern rebuke of China and said “now is the time to call out” Beijing’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, which he argued has had devastating ecological consequences and could destabilize the region.

In his first major international speech since taking over as acting Pentagon chief on Jan. 1, Mr. Shanahan said the Trump administration is making unprecedented commitments to fund a broad Indo-Pacific strategy that centers on ensuring the sovereignty of all nations, and freedom of navigation and flight in and over the South China Sea. As it grows economically, China has laid claim to massive areas off its coast, and the U.S. consistently has pushed back by sailing American ships through those waters.

While Mr. Shanahan stressed Washington and Beijing can be valuable partners, he also pulled no punches in delivering an especially harsh critique of China’s foreign policy approach and poor human-rights record during an address at the annual Shangri-La security forum in Singapore.

“Some seem to want a future where power determines place and debt determines destiny, where nations are unable to make use of natural resources within their exclusive economic zones,” Mr. Shanahan said, “where coral reefs are dredged with disastrous ecological and economic consequences, where fishermen’s livelihoods are imperiled as they are denied access to waters they and their ancestors have fished for generations, where freedom of navigation and international overflight are restricted and where the fundamental respect for all people is ignored and religious freedoms are suppressed.”

“We can’t wish away reality or continue to look away when countries use friendly rhetoric to distract from unfriendly acts,” he continued. “Now is the time to call out the mismatch between words and deeds.”

Hours before his address, Mr. Shanahan met with Chinese Minister of Defense Wei Fenghe in a conversation the Pentagon said was designed to “reduce the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation between our nations.”

The Chinese defense minister will address the Shangri-La conference on Saturday — the first time in eight years Beijing has sent such a high-ranking official to the gathering.

Earlier Friday, China condemned U.S. naval moves in the region, specifically the May 19 sailing of a Navy warship near China’s Huangyan Island.

“The Chinese side has made resolute responses to the provocations by the U.S. side. We hope that the U.S. can meet with us on halfway, to expand mutual cooperation on the basis of mutual benefits, properly handle differences on the basis of mutual respect,” said Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense.

To counter China’s growing claims in the South China Sea, Mr. Shanahan said the Defense Department — with the cooperation of Congress and the White House — will make unprecedented investments in cyber and space defense, undersea warfare, tactical aircraft, missile defense, and in a host of other areas.

“The United States does not seek conflict. But we know having the capability to win wars is the best way to deter them,” he said. “We want to ensure no adversary believes it can successfully achieve political objectives through military force.”

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