Sangathi

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Will deter against China’s coercive behaviour in South China sea: US continues to ramp up pressure


The US Defense Secretary Mark Esper condemned China’s maritime activity in the South China Sea, saying that China had increased its ‘bad behaviour’ in the region in the past six months.

The South China Sea is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, which includes Beijing’s increased pressure on Taiwan. (Photo: Reuters)

With the Trump administration not backing off from tensions with China, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US wants to deter against China’s coercive behaviour in the South China Sea area.

“We want to deter against coercive behaviour by the Chinese in the South China Sea. We know it has been going on for years. China has been bullying, coercing and compelling smaller countries in the region,” Esper said.

The South China Sea is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the US-China relationship, which includes Beijing’s increased pressure on Taiwan.

The Pentagon chief said China had intensified its “bad behaviour” in the past six months.

“All the Asean countries are very concerned about China’s bad behaviour. We have seen it pick up in the past six months since the Covid-19 hit,” he said.

China has built bases atop atolls in the region but says its intentions are peaceful. Esper said nobody in Taiwan believed China’s version of the events.

He said China had carried out simulated exercises to take over a Taiwanese-controlled island, calling it a destabilizing activity that increased the risk of miscalculation.

‘WILL VISIT CHINA’

In another significant statement, Esper said he hopes to visit China by the end of the year to improve “crisis-communications” channels and address other areas of mutual interest as he condemned China’s maritime activity in the South China Sea.

“Before the year is out, I hope to visit the PRC for the first time as a secretary in order to enhance cooperation on areas of common interest, establish the systems necessary for crisis communications and reinforce our intentions to openly compete in the international system,” Esper said, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

It was unclear whether Esper’s trip would be contingent upon securing special travel waivers given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has strained already fraught relations between the world’s two largest economies.

Earlier this month, the United States rejected China’s claim to offshore resources in much of the South China Sea, drawing criticism from China which said the US position raised tension in the region, highlighting an increasingly testy relationship.

Esper referred to the US’s changed tone with China and said the Western superpower will continue heightened surveillance and naval activity in the South China Sea.

“We want to ensure China respects the sovereignty of others and follows world law. We are going to continue to do that through [naval] exercises, we are going to continue to talk about the importance of international law as we did recently,” he said.

The United States has long opposed China’s expansive territorial claims on the South China Sea and sent warships regularly through the strategic waterway, but recent comments reflect a harsher tone.

International diplomatic and defence travel has been severely curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has added strain to US-China relations.


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