The Pentagon has pulled its invitation for China to join maritime exercises in the Pacific because of Beijing's "continued militarization" of the South China Sea, an official said Wednesday, in the latest sign of US-China strains.
The Pentagon says it has evidence that the Chinese regime 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.
"Apart from the freedom of navigation missions and the strong rhetoric, the USA hasn't been able to corral together a coalition of the willing, to effectively to get China to stop the militarisation of the South China Sea".
Many Chinese fishing vessels accompanied by special forces were casting nets within Vietnamese waters, only 40 sea miles from Ly Son Island off Vietnam's south central coast, said Senior Lieutenant General Le Chiem, Deputy Minister of National Defense.
However, tensions have continued amid China's continuing military reinforcement of land features in the South China Sea that are claimed by multiple nations. "They only have themselves to blame for this decision". It is the world's largest global maritime exercise.
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China had attended the exercises previously but has been kept out of the drill this year.
The decision to pull China's invitation comes amid new tensions between Beijing and Washington.
Senior Western diplomats describe the placement of troops or jet fighters on the islands as a looming test of worldwide efforts to curb China's determination to dominate the vital trade waterway.
"The United States is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific", Pentagon spokesman Lt Col. Christopher Logan said in a written statement.
Those islands, which China has enlarged and occupied in recent years, are subject to competing claims from several countries, including Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
China's foreign minister says the USA withdrawal of an invitation for China to participate in a multinational naval exercise is "very non-constructive".
Fanell warned that Navy leaders in Hawaii need to remain on guard for China to dispatch another PLA intelligence ship to Hawaiian waters as done in 2012 and 2014.
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Revoking Beijing's invitation fits into the current hard line adopted by both Democrats and Republicans, who regard the military and economic rise of China as the pre-eminent challenge to global USA hegemony.
Nonetheless, it appears that China is entrenched to the point that it can not be forced out of the South China Sea.
In May, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said allowing China to take part in RIMPAC was "the sort of thing that brings us all together in sort of positive, constructive ways".
Washington also is engaged in a trade dispute with China over US complaints about market access and technology policy. He said, "our goal remains to convince China that its best future comes from peaceful cooperation, meaningful participation in the current rules-based worldwide order, and honoring its global commitments".
"The logic behind these military exchanges has weakened", Mastro said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
"When objectively examined there is scant empirical proof that navy-to-navy engagement with the PRC has changed or will change their behavior", Fanell stated in a U.S. Naval Institute article in July.
The United States and other countries disagree. The biannual exercise is organized by U.S. Pacific Command and involves naval forces from multiple Asian countries.
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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.