Sat, Jun 03, 2017 - Page 6 News List

US committed to Asian allies: Mattis

NORTH KOREA:Concerns have arisen that Washington might allow Beijing more leeway in the South China Sea in exchange for support on reining in Pyongyang


US Secretary of Defense James Mattis yesterday said the US remains committed to its Asia-Pacific allies, as he headed to the region’s premier defense and security forum.

Mattis said that in a speech today to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore he would talk about the “international order” needed for a peaceful Asia, a reference to countering North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.

“At the Shangri-La dialogue I will emphasize [that] the United States stands with our Asia-Pacific allies and partners,” Mattis told reporters on his way to the regional security forum.

“The [US] Department of Defense is focused on strengthening alliances, empowering countries to be able to sustain their own security and strengthening US military capabilities to deter war,” Mattis said.

He is expected to meet with his counterparts from a number of countries, including South Korea, Japan and Australia.

China’s delegation is to be led by a retired major general from the Chinese Academy of Military Science, according to the forum’s program.

US President Donald Trump has actively courted Chinese support on North Korea, raising concerns among Southeast Asian allies in the buildup to the dialogue that Washington might allow China a freer rein elsewhere in the region.

The US focus on North Korea has been sharpened by dozens of North Korean missile launches — the most recent of which was on Monday — and two nuclear bomb tests since the beginning of last year. Pyongyang has vowed to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the continental US.

Japan’s navy and air force on Thursday began a three-day military exercise with two US aircraft carriers in the Sea of Japan, adding pressure on North Korea to halt an accelerating ballistic missile program.

Mattis said he would talk about the need for countries to uphold international law, an apparent reference to Beijing’s construction activities on disputed islets and reefs in the South China Sea.

China’s claims to most of the South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Last week, a US Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles (22.2km) of an artificial island China has built on a disputed reef in the South China Sea, the first such challenge to Beijing in the strategic waterway since Trump took office.

The Trump administration has completed a broad review of US options aimed at curbing North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, and leans more toward new sanctions and increased cooperation with Beijing.

Some Asian officials have said worries about Trump’s direction have been fueled by his unpredictable personal approach to policymaking and emphasis on his chemistry with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).

Since meeting Xi in April, Trump has praised him for efforts to restrain North Korea.

“It is going to take time for the actions that China is taking to have affect in terms of North Korea,” US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey said.

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