The U.S. will continue to confront China's militarization of manmade islands in the South China Sea, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today in Honolulu, arguing that Beijing hasn't abided by its promise not to put weapons on the Spratly Islands.
The U.S. operation on Sunday was planned in advance, but similar military exercises have become routine amid China's increasing militarization of the islands.
On Sunday, two US warships sailed close to the Paracel Islands, which lie north of the Spratlys, the latest freedom of navigation operation created to challenge Beijing's claims.
The dialogue comes amid rising criticism from the United States and its allies of Beijing's actions in the South China Sea, and in particular its deployment of advanced weapons and aircraft, including its nuclear-capable H-6K strategic bombers.
"You'll notice there is only one country that seems to take active steps to rebuff them or state their resentment [to] them, but it's global waters and a lot of nations want to see freedom of navigation", Mattis told reporters while enroute to Hawaii.
Mattis said the US will continue those operations.
"When they do things that are opaque to the rest of us, we can't cooperate in areas that we would otherwise cooperate in", Mattis told reporters.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that his country could go to war if its soldiers were hurt in the disputed South China Sea, according to National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon. "But it's worldwide waters, and a lot of nations want to see freedom of navigation, so we'll continue that", he said.
Mattis said other nations in the region are concerned about the weaponization of the islands and reefs, and they want to see continued freedom of navigation operations in the global waters.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, despite overlapping claims with other countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Last week, the Philippines expressed "serious concern" over the presence of China's strategic bombers in the disputed waters, but its response to the installation of missile systems was muted. After North Korea threatened to withdraw from the summit last week, Trump attributed the "change in attitude" to the influence of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who recently met with Kim. -China relations are expected to be a major focus of the Shangri-La Dialogue.
"The diplomats are continuing to meet ... at Panmunjom and there's some folks already in Singapore", Mattis said. He will also hold separate meetings with the defense ministers of Indonesia and Japan.