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US uninvites China to Pacific military drill over continued militarization of South China Sea

The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) conducts patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, in 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Conor Minto/Released)
May 23, 2018

The United States has withdrawn its invitation for China to take part in a major naval exercise on Wednesday, citing the continued militarization of the South China Sea, a Pentagon spokesperson said Wednesday.

Beijing has ramped up its efforts in staking claim to various disputed territories by positioning military aircraft and weapons systems on different island chains there.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said that the Defense Department reversed its earlier invitation for China to participate in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), a biennial naval exercise that includes more than two dozen nations, the Washington Post reported.

The exercise takes place in the waters around the Hawaiian islands and southern California. China has participated in the naval drills since 2014.

Chinese officials were notified of the decision on Wednesday morning, and the news came just hours before Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, D.C.

The Pentagon explained that China’s increased military presence on disputed islands was the reason behind their decision. Beijing has recently placed anti ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronics jammers on the contested Spratly Islands, along with landing bomber aircraft on Woody Island, another contested land mass.

“While China has maintained that the construction of the islands is to ensure safety at sea, navigation assistance, search and rescue, fisheries protection and other non-military functions, the placement of these weapon systems is only for military use,” Logan said in a statement.

“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,” he added. “China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise.”

Logan described China’s activities as a “violation of the promise that [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] made to the United States and the world.”

“We have called on China to remove the military systems immediately and to reverse course on the militarization of disputed South China Sea features,” Logan said.

The South China Sea plays host to countless territorial disputes between China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

As one of the world’s largest trade passages, most nations prefer the South China Sea to remain as international waters.

As a means to promote this idea, the U.S. and other nations regularly conduct “freedom of navigation” operations.

The territorial disputes include various island chains, ocean and gulf boundaries, fishing rights, and claims to the rights of resources including crude oil and natural gas in the seabed.