The Pentagon withdrew its invitation for China to participate in a major U.S.-hosted naval drill after a strong evidence showed that Beijing has deployed weapons in the Spratly Islands, violating China’s promise not to militarize the South China Sea.
“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,” Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesperson, said.
PLA is the English-language acronym of China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army.
“We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea,” he said.
China’s behavior in the South China Sea was inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RimPac Exercise. The decision to uninvite them from the maritime exercise was an “initial response” to China’s militarization of the disputed waterway.
“China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region,” Logan said.
According to the Pentagon, Beijing has insisted that the construction of artificial islands were meant for non-military functions but the installment of weapons on the islands is for military use.
“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,” Logan said.
Meanwhile, The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councilor Wang Yi said that the decision was “unhelpful to mutual understanding” between the two countries and urged the US to change its “negative mindset.”
“We find that a very unconstructive move,” he told reporters in Washington after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Wang described the deployments as self-defense, comparing it to U.S. military presence in Hawaii and Guam.
“We hope that the U.S. will change such a negative mindset,” Wang said.
China’s air force landed bombers on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise in the region, triggering concern from Vietnam and the Philippines, over the weekend.
Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at Rand Corporation, said that disinviting China before the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier defense summit which will be held in Singapore, was “pretty cold” and “embarrassing” for Beijing.
China insisted that the deployment of an H-6K bomber on Woody Island was just normal training of the Chinese military.
“On the so-called militarization in the South China Sea, we talked about this issue just now … It is a normal deployment and has nothing to do with militarization,” Wang said.
Chinese Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang, in a press briefing on Monday, May 21, said that “there is no need for other parties to over-interpret that.”