U.S. presses China to halt militarization of South China Sea

U.S. presses China to halt militarization of South China Sea


Standing side by side, top U.S. officials urged their Chinese counterparts in early November 2018 to halt militarization of the disputed South China Sea, drawing a rebuke from the Chinese for sending U.S. warships close to islands claimed by Beijing.

During a round of high-level talks in Washington, the two sides aired in sometimes blunt terms many of their main differences, including a bitter trade dispute, freedom of navigation in Indo-Pacific waters, self-ruled Taiwan, and People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) crackdown on its Muslim minority in Xinjiang.

Two visiting senior PRC officials also seized the opportunity to warn publicly that a trade war between the world’s two largest economies would end up hurting both sides and to call for keeping channels of communication open to resolve an issue that has unsettled global financial markets.

Despite the airing of grievances, the talks appeared aimed at controlling the damage to relations that worsened in recent months and at paving the way for an encounter between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina at the end of November.

“The United States is not pursuing a Cold War or containment policy with respect to China,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a joint news conference.

Even as the United States and PRC confront difficult challenges, “cooperation remains essential on many issues,” he said, citing efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

The meeting paired Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis with Chinese Politburo member Yang Jiechi and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe. The annual U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue was originally set for Beijing in October but had been called off amid rising tensions. (Pictured: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listen to Chinese Communist Party Office of Foreign Affairs Director Yang Jiechi, left, as they hold a joint news conference after participating in a second diplomatic and security meeting at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., in November 2018.)

Pompeo took aim at the PRC over its continued building of military installations on artificial islands and reefs in the South China Sea, where the PRC insists it has sovereignty despite competing claims from some smaller neighbors.

“We have continued concerns about China’s activities and militarization in the South China Sea,” Pompeo said following the talks. “We pressed China to live up to its past commitments in this area.”

Yang said China was committed to “nonconfrontation” but that the PRC had the right to build “necessary defense facilities” on what it considers its own territory and urged Washington to stop sending warships and military planes close to the islands that the PRC claims.