Weighs more South China Sea patrols to confront 'new reality' of China

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"We do not see it as a militarisation by going through what has traditionally been an global water space", said Mattis of the United States ship movements through the South China Sea.

"We see any other country that tries to make noise about this as interfering in our internal affairs", said He, who is deputy president of the Academy of Military Sciences at the People's Liberation Army.

Several countries - China, Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei - have been fighting over the resource-rich South China Sea for years.

But speaking at the same conference, China's Lt Gen He Lei said: "Any irresponsible comments from other countries can not be accepted".

Earlier on Saturday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis lambasted Beijing at the summit for building up military presence on disputed South China Sea islands.

USA officials are also pushing worldwide allies and partners to increase their own naval deployments through the vital trade route as China strengthens its military capabilities on both the Paracel and Spratly islands, the diplomats said, even if they stopped short of directly challenging Chinese holdings.

"We do not see it as a militarization by going through what has traditionally been an worldwide water space", said Mattis of the USA ship movements through the South China Sea.

The US defense secretary refuted Zhao's claim that freedom of navigation operations were militarising the waters, which were global.

He said the USA "will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, cooperation when possible, and competing vigorously where we must". Singapore has warned previously that countries should not be squeezed by competition between the US and a rising China, or forced to take sides.

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"This has jeopardized China's security and challenged China's sovereignty", He said, highlighting that such acts "are the true root of the militarization of the South China Sea".

"We did not do freedom of navigation for America alone", Mattis said.

China believes islands, islets and other maritime features in the South China Sea are its sovereign territory and that it is within its rights to build defenses on them.

Aaron Friedberg, a professor of politics and worldwide affairs at Princeton University and a former deputy assistant for national security affairs, said that Mattis's speech was probably meant to ease U.S. allies' concerns not just about regional threats but also about President Trump's oft-changing foreign policy. He also reiterated that the Pentagon was committed to working with Taiwan to provide articles and services needed for its self defence, comments that are likely to anger China. While the operation had been planned months in advance, and similar operations have become routine, it came at a particularly sensitive time and just days after the Pentagon withdrew an invitation to China for a major USA -hosted naval drill.

Last month the USA withdrew an invitation for the Chinese navy to take part in a training excercise called Rim of the Pacific because the Pentagon said it had strong evidence that China had deployed weapons systems on disputed islands.

The Pentagon chief gave only a brief mention of the negotiations for the planned June 12 summit in Singapore between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Last week, two United States warships came within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands - which are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan - and carried out manoeuvring operations.

"I believe we should broaden this effort even further", said Parly, adding that Europe was mobilising more widely to support this endeavour and there were also German observers on board.

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