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US Kicks China Out Of The World’s Largest International Naval Exercise Over Chinese Militarization In The South China Sea

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

The U.S. has decided to punish China for the militarization of the South China Sea by expelling it from the world’s largest naval exercise, The Wall Street Journal first reported Wednesday, citing the Pentagon.

The U.S. has “disinvited the [People’s Liberation Army Navy] from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise,” Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan confirmed to The Daily Caller News Foundation in an official statement, explaining that “China’s behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise.” China’s expulsion from the drills was described as an “initial response,” suggesting that there might be more to come.

RIMPAC, an event led by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, is a biennial joint naval exercise involving dozens of ships from multiple countries. China participated in the drills for the first time in 2014, when it surprisingly sent an uninvited Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence ship to spy on the drills.

Since then, China has significantly bolstered its military presence in the disputed South China Sea, despite a ruling by an international arbitration tribunal in the summer of 2016 discrediting Beijing’s extensive claims to the region. In particular, China has fortified its outposts in the Paracel and Spratly Islands, arming them with various defense systems. (RELATED: China Secretly Sends Missiles To Contested Islands In The South China Sea)

“We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea. China’s landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions,” the Pentagon wrote in a relevant statement, stressing that these developments are a violation of the promise Chinese President Xi Jinping made to former President Barack Obama that China would not attempt to militarize the South China Sea.

The Trump administration has demonstrated a greater willingness to press China in the South China Sea, conducting half a dozen freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the past year and a half. The previous administration hesitated and did not start conducting FONOPs until late 2015. By the end of Obama’s presidency, the Navy had only conducted four.

Nonetheless, it appears that China is entrenched to the point that it cannot be forced out of the South China Sea. “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” Adm. Philip Davidson, the new head of U.S. Pacific Command, said in April.

China has not yet publicly responded to its expulsion from RIMPAC.

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