The continuing escalation of tension between the United States and China has been ratcheted up even more with the U.S. disinviting the Chinese from participating in an upcoming international naval exercise to be held off Hawaii.
Among other things, the U.S. is upset of China’s militarization of small islands in the South China Sea. China’s foreign minister criticized the U.S. decision calling it “very unconstructive” and “unhelpful.”
The move is in response to China’s continued placement of military hardware on seven artificial islands in the Spratly Island chain that it claims as its territory.
“China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilize the region,” said Lt. Colonel Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman.
“As an initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea, we have disinvited the PLA Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise,” he added. “China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise.”
Held every two years, this year’s version of the RIMPAC exercise was to begin in late June and end in early August. The exercise is largest international Navy exercise, with 27 nations slated to participate in this year’s version.
China’s navy participated in a limited role in the 2014 and 2016 versions of the exercise.
The move to rescind the invitation to participate in this year’s exercise is directly pegged to China’s buildup of large-scale air and sea facilities on the seven artificial islands it has built up in the Spratly Islands.
In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping made assurances to President Barack Obama that China was not seeking to militarize the islands, but satellite photos indicate China has consistently placed military equipment on the islands, and built up runways and port facilities that could be used by China’s military.
“We believe these recent deployments and the continued militarization of these features is a violation of the promise that President Xi made to the United States and the World not to militarize the Spratly Islands,” said Logan.
“We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea,” said Logan. “China’s landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions.”
State Councilor Wang Yi labeled the rescinding of the invitation “very unconstructive” and “unhelpful to mutual understanding.”
Wang has stated that China is only building civilian and some necessary defense facilities on their own islands,” he said.
He added that the Chinese retain their right to self-defense and compared the construction to what the U.S. does on their bases in Guam and Hawaii.
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