Mattis accuses China of S China Sea 'intimidation and coercion'

China general slams 'irresponsible comments' on South China Sea

A Chinese military official dismissed the comments as "irresponsible".

In a speech to the annual IISS Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore, Ng said the world's two-biggest economies were similarly using security considerations to justify their behavior - the USA on trade and China for its military buildup in the disputed South China Sea.

"The United States military presence in the South China Sea is greater than that of China and other countries that surround the seas combined", Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.

Mr Mattis said Beijing was intimidating and coercing others in the region by putting weapons systems on manmade islands.

The comments came on the heels of a string of events that highlight the tension between the world's two biggest economies over the South China Sea's disputed waters.

Satellite pictures released last month, however, showed Beijing has built at least four airstrips suitable for military aircraft, on Woody Island in the Paracels, and on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs in the Spratly archipelago.

China's construction of military facilities and deployment of defense systems on disputed islands in the South China Sea in recent months caused concerns from countries in the region.

Those words were in turn echoed by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who raised the prospect of further action by the US against China's militarisation of man made islands in the region.

"If the USA will continue to pursue a constructive results-oriented relationship with China, cooperation, whenever possible, will be the name of the game, and competing vigorously where we must".

Critics say the patrols have little impact on Beijing and mask the lack of a broader strategy to deal with the growing influence of China.

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China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in the South China Sea that is crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves.

"If the diplomats can do their work, if we can reduce the threat, if we can restore confidence building measures with something verifiable, then of course these kinds of issues can come up subsequently between two sovereign democracies, the Republic of Korea and the United States", Mattis said.

However the message is likely to be a more durable promote for Mattis, who is usually standard on the worldwide scene, after his boss this week imposed metals tariffs on a few of America's closest allies within the title of "nationwide safety".

South Korea and Japan have expressed concern that Trump may put US security interests ahead of theirs in pursuing a deal with North Korea.

China has not sent high-level officials to the Shangri-La conference.

The Pentagon is weighing a more assertive programme of so-called freedom-of-navigation operations close to Chinese installations on disputed reefs, according to U.S. officials.

Mr Mattis also said the issue of U.S. troops in South Korea was "not on the table" at this month's summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

In response to a question from People's Liberation Army Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhuo criticizing USA freedom of navigation exercises, Mattis said these US actions were "a reaffirmation of the rules-based order".

"We did not do freedom of navigation for America alone", Mattis said.

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