US Disinvites China From Military Exercise Amid Rising TensionsMay 23, 2018
WASHINGTON — The United States has disinvited China from participating in a multinational naval exercise scheduled for this summer, further escalating tensions with Beijing that have spanned from trade to North Korea to the military.
The Pentagon cited China’s rapid military buildup on disputed islands in the South China Sea for withdrawing the invitation for Beijing to participate in the large-scale naval exercise known as Rim of the Pacific, or RimPac. Defense Department officials said on Wednesday that China’s decision to place surface-to-air missile systems and other offensive weaponry on the islands spurred the move.
The military snub comes after President Trump suggested the Chinese might be influencing North Korea’s recent talk of withdrawing from a summit meeting set for June 12 to discuss the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Washington and Beijing also are in the middle of a major trade fight that is part of a perennial battle over market access and technology policy.
The conflict over China’s military buildup in the disputed islands adds another layer to the overall tensions between the two global economic powers.
“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,” Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
He added that “China’s landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions.”
It marks the first time that China has been disinvited from RimPac, Commander Logan said.
Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea islands — which have been claimed variously by China, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines — has been for years a source of tension.
During his campaign, Mr. Trump labeled President Barack Obama as weak in defending international waters in the South China Sea, where Beijing has started a sharp military buildup to reclaim land, install runways and haul equipment onto reefs and shoals it claims as its own. Several of Mr. Trump’s aides called for China to be denied access to the artificial islands.
During the first few months of the Trump administration, foreign policy experts and Asia watchers braced for a return to routine Navy patrols within China’s self-proclaimed territorial waters, something Mr. Obama allowed sparingly.
But freedom of navigation naval patrols, which are used by the United States to challenge Chinese claims to the islands, continued sparingly. Top Pentagon officials rejected three requests by the Navy to conduct the freedom of navigation patrols in the initial months of Mr. Trump’s presidency, before resuming them again last year.
China has brought additional equipment to the disputed islands and bomb-proofed airplane hangars it built there. Its government says that such action does not constitute a militarization of the islands, which Beijing considers to be Chinese territory and therefore it cannot militarize land it already owns.
The United States and other countries disagree.
“China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region,” Commander Logan said in the Pentagon statement. He called China’s behavior “inconsistent with the principles and purposes” of the exercise.