USA defense secretary reaffirms commitment to Taiwan

Posted June 07, 2017

The United States is encouraged by China's efforts to restrain North Korea but Washington will not accept Beijing's militarization of islands in the South China Sea, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday.

"North Korea poses a threat to us all", Mattis said on Saturday in a speech to the Shangri-La security dialogue in Singapore, Asia's most high-profile security conference.

"In the security arena, we have a deep and abiding commitment to reinforcing the rules-based worldwide order, a product of so many nations' efforts to create stability", Mattis said in Singapore at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a major defence summit for countries from the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

"We can not and will not accept unilateral, coercive changes to the status quo" in the South China Sea, he said.

With regional leaders seeking how to square US President Donald Trump's "America First" doctrine with a US leadership role in the region, Mattis strongly reaffirmed US commitment to its alliances.

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He said while competition between the U.S. and China was bound to occur, "conflict is not inevitable". "We believe the United States can engage China diplomatically and economically to ensure our relationship is beneficial - not only to the United States and China - but also to the region and to the world", Mattis said. "Our two countries can and do cooperate for mutual benefit".

The Japanese defence minister said the threat had "entered a new stage" and urged the North to "abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs" and "cease its provocative actions".

North Korea is pushing hard to build a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the continental United States. In his speech, Mattis said the USA will stick to its treaty commitments to South Korea.

"The Security Council is sending a clear message to North Korea today - stop firing ballistic missiles or face the consequences", U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said after the vote.

New US sanctions were announced Thursday in anticipation of the United Nations resolution restricting alleged suppliers to the North Korea's weapons programs, according to the US Treasury.

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During his nomination hearing earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the U.S. was "going to have to send China a clear signal that first the island-building stops, and second your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed".

The last round of complex sanctions imposed by the Security Council took three months to negotiate following Pyongyang's fifth nuclear test in September.

The U.S. military this week successfully tested a defense system created to shoot down an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in midair.

Mattis said the United States welcomed China's economic development, but he anticipated "friction" between the two countries.

He also urged leaders to "reject the de-globalisation impulse", in what could be seen as a criticism of some of the U.S. administration's more isolationist policies, after the USA withdrawal from the Paris accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

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"If it continues on this unsafe path, we will have no other choice but to reinforce the pressure, again and again", Delattre said.