A senior US military commander has slammed Beijing for flexing its muscles over the South China Sea, and for not responding to Washington's call to set up a crisis communication mechanism.
Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, struck a cautious note at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Thursday over China's growing military influence in the region.
Davidson said Washington and Beijing were having an "ongoing dialogue" at the military level, but a crisis communication mechanism was needed to reduce the threat of miscalculation.
"(Being) competitive does not mean don't engage. We do engage at the military level," he said. "(But) the US has a long-standing request with China. For me, to have a crisis communication with the Southern Theatre Command, which manages the South China Sea, and (China's) Eastern Theatre Command … they have yet to respond to that ask."
China and the US are locked in dispute over military deployment in the Indo-Pacific region. Beijing has protested against US freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea, while the US and China's Southeast Asian neighbours are concerned about China's military build-up there.
Davidson confirmed Washington's commitment to a continued US presence in the disputed South China Sea, which he said was not to assert US claims but to resolve disputes peacefully and preserve rule-based order.
"Many other nations support our freedom of navigation operations quite strongly, despite China's protests," Davidson said, noting that five of America's mutual defence treaty alliances were in the Indo-Pacific region.
Davidson also noted that Beijing had conducted a missile test soon after Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe delivered a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June, in which he defended the militarisation of reefs in the disputed South China Sea as China's "legitimate right".
Davidson criticised Beijing's military ambitions in the South China Sea, describing Wei's Singapore speech as "quite chilling for everyone in the audience".
"Not only did he make it clear that he didn't think Asia and the western Pacific was any place for America, he basically said that Asia wasn't even for Asians (but) it was for the Chinese," Davidson said.
Davidson also noted that another speech by Wei earlier this month - to a gathering in China of defence officials from Latin America, the South Pacific and the Caribbean - had also been closely followed by a Chinese military exercise.
"A couple of weeks ago Minister Wei, again speaking to a forum of Latin American and Pacific island defence ministers from Oceania, made it clear (the Belt and Road Initiative) was indeed a way to put a military foothold in other places around the globe," Davidson said.
"Within hours of that they shot six anti-ship ballistic missiles - new ones - that they have developed into the South China Sea. Once might be a coincidence, but seeing this happen twice is indeed a message, not only to the US but indeed to the whole globe." Davidson said.
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