SecDef: Now Is Not The Time For ‘Dramatic Military Moves’ In South China Sea

Courtesy Diana Quinlan/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The secretary of defense has laid to rest, for the time being, Chinese fears that the U.S. will take military action in the South China Sea.

Speaking in Tokyo, Japan, Secretary of Defense General James Mattis said Saturday that the U.S. will not make “dramatic military moves” in the highly-contested waters of the South China Sea.

“At this time, we do not see any need for dramatic military moves at all,” Mattis explained, emphasizing the importance of diplomacy in solving regional disputes. “What we have to do is exhaust all efforts — diplomatic efforts — to try and resolve this properly, maintaining open lines of communication.”

Some other members of President Donald Trump’s team had previously raised concerns in Beijing that the U.S. intended to challenge Chinese claims to the region militarily.

When he compared China’s actions in the South China Sea to “Russia’s taking of the Crimea,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused the Chinese of “taking territory or control or declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s.”

“We’re 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,” he added.

Some observers assumed he simply misspoke, but then the White House press secretary doubled down on his remarks.

“I think the U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during his first official press conference.

“If those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yes, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” he further explained.

While Mattis walked back these statements, expressing a desire to try diplomacy before sending in the military, he did not give China a pass on its questionable activities.

He asserted that China has “shredded the trust of nations in the region,” indicating that Chinese actions in the region are still a concern for Washington.

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