Mattis: U.S. will confront China on militarization of islands

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Just days ago, USA sent two of its warships in the disputed waters as it conducted "freedom of navigation", which provoked China and led the latter to warn them off.

Much to the displeasure of Beijing, which called the action a serious infringement of Chinese sovereignty, the guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins and the cruiser USS Antietam sailed within 12 miles of four of the Paracel Islands to demonstrate the "freedom of navigation" and enforce the right of free passage in global waters.

The South China Sea is once again rapidly becoming a major point of contention between Washington and Beijing, with both sides refusing to back down.

"Chinese military took immediate actions by dispatching naval ships and aircrafts to conduct legal identification and verification of the USA warships and warn them off", Wu Qian, defense ministry spokesman, said in a statement released to the media. "We're very open about them".

"The diplomats are continuing to meet ... at Panmunjom and there's some folks already in Singapore", Mattis said.

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China has also deployed YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles and HQ-9B surface-to-air missiles to islands in the Spratlys, boosting China's ability to combat US aviation and naval assets should such action be necessary.

"This administration does not and will not abandon the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China Sea disputes".

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Esperon made the remarks after some groups criticized the government for not doing enough to protest China's increased militarization in the South China Sea.

Filipino forces have been based for years on the island, which the Philippines calls Pag-asa, along with a small fishing community. "If there is more than one country militarizing, and it's not only the islands, if huge navies are sailing through the area, is that not militarization?" he said.

He says American ships are maintaining a "steady drumbeat" of naval operations around disputed islands, and "only one country" seems to be bothered by the vessels' activities.

"We have been filing diplomatic protests but our critics want us to shout loudly", Cayetano said.

Mattis says the USA will continue to confront China's militarization of manmade islands in the South China Sea, arguing that Beijing hasn't abided by its promise not to put weapons on the Spratly Islands.

China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion (543 trillion yen) in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

U.S. Navy Adm. Philip Davidson will take over PACOM from Adm. Harry Harris during the change of command on Wednesday.

National security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the Philippine government has been monitoring China's reported deployment of missiles and landing of Chinese military aircraft on Woody Islands in the Paracels.