Friedberg, a professor of politics and global affairs at Princeton University and a former deputy assistant for national security affairs, said that Mr. Mattis's speech was probably meant to ease American allies' concerns not just about regional threats, but about President Trump's oft-changing foreign policy.
Beijing has deployed a range of military hardware including anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jammers across the South China Sea, where it has built islets and other maritime features into hardened military facilities, Mattis said.
"The US will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, cooperating when possible and competing vigorously where we must. of course we recognise any sustainable Indo-Pacific order has a role for China", he said.
Thai Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon greets US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis at the Shangri-la Dialogue, an worldwide gathering of defrence strategists, in Singapore.
"I believe there are much larger consequences in the future, when nations lose the rapport of their neighbors", Mattis said after his speech in response to a question from Bloomberg News.
"Despite China's claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion", he said.
Mattis's address in Singapore was the second time he had attended the annual event sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies since becoming Pentagon chief.
"I believe that what we are going to see is at some point in both Moscow and Beijing they are going to recognize the reality", Mattis said.
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The United States has long demanded that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons.
Mattis said any discussion about the future of 28,000 USA troops now stationed in South Korea "will be separate and distinct from the negotiations" with North Korea. The former Marine Corps general said Saturday that the deployment violated Chinese President Xi Jinping's commitments to not militarize the area.
"These things fly over the Sea of Japan, they even fly over northern Japan".
"Deploying troops and weapons on islands in the South China Sea is within China's sovereign right to do and allowed by worldwide law", said He Lei, a lieutenant general with the People's Liberation Army.
China has not sent high-level officials to the Shangri-La conference.
Mattis said the Pentagon will "hold the line" and support the diplomatic effort to secure the "complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula".
During his trip to Singapore, Mattis has been reluctant to discuss the summit preparations, instead insisting that the Pentagon is focused on backing up US diplomats leading the process.
Despite his criticism, Gen Mattis added that the United States would "continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China" with "co-operation whenever possible".