(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. has revoked its invitation for China to join in Pacific naval exercises, citing Beijing’s continued activities in disputed parts of the South China Sea.
“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” exercises, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Rim of the Pacific, which the Defense Department calls the world’s biggest international maritime exercise, was established in 1971 by the U.S., Australia and Canada and has included the armed forces of many nations, including China. This year, Brazil, Sri Lanka and Vietnam are to take part in the biennial exercises that unfold near the Hawaiian Islands and off the coast of California.
“We have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea,” Logan said in the Pentagon statement. “China’s landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions.”
“China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region,” Logan said.
Reefs to Airfields
China, which claims much of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, has bolstered its military presence by building artificial outposts on reefs. That has led to fears of armed conflict.
Last year, China warned an American warship, the guided-missile destroyer Dewey, to leave waters it claims in the South China Sea. The Chinese had built an airfield on a reef in the area.
China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, who was visiting Washington, told reporters at the State Department that “we hope the U.S. will change such a negative mindset.”
Wang, who had been meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, added, “Both China and the U.S. are big countries, and we’re well-positioned to have greater cooperation at sea.”
Asked about the dispute, Pompeo said, “State Councilor Wang and I spoke about it.”
He added that “we’ve expressed consistent concern about militarization in the South China Sea, and I will leave it to our militaries to talk about their efforts together."
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