China elevates combat readiness in South China Sea, experts say

China elevates combat readiness in South China Sea, experts say

In a speech on Monday, Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano defended the Philippines government from allegations that they were taking a soft policy on Chinese militarization of the South China Sea.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis lands in Kabul on March 13, 2018 on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan.

During the weekend, two USA warships sailed close to the Paracel Islands, north of the Spratlys, drawing protests from China.

"The Chinese government said that warships sailing in the disputed waters where China claims ownership is a serious infringement" of its "inherent territory".

Mattis said American ships are maintaining a "steady drumbeat" of naval operations around the disputed islands, adding that "only one country" seems to be bothered by the vessels' routine activities.

"I challenge anyone of them, whatever their profession - justice, politician, newsman, journalist - if we lost a single island during Duterte's time, I will pack my bags, go home".

Pentagon officials have long complained that China has not been candid enough about its rapid military build-up and using South China Sea islands to gather intelligence.

However, Cayetano said the president, who has been criticised for his refusal to confront China with the Philippines' 2016 victory at the Hague Tribunal, had warned that he would go to war with Beijing if it broke his "red lines" relating to the South China Sea.

USA officials say the freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) are regularly scheduled and occur globally.

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China always asserts that its actions are defensive in nature, arguing that the deployment of various weapons systems do not constitute "militarization" and are, therefore, not a violation of past agreements. Ousting China from the exercise could signal that joint activities, or the military relationship as a whole, are a reward.

"This is merely set aside in the meantime, in line with the efforts of government at promoting peace, stability, and cordial relations among claimant countries in the region", Esperon said in a statement.

The Pentagon, as it nearly always does, says the sailings were planned months in advance and that the timing in relation to recent tensions between China and the United States is coincidental.

The Chinese language Overseas Ministry has repeatedly said the territory within the South China Sea falls below Beijing's jurisdiction, to do with because it pleases. The Higgins is one of two U.S warships that sailed through the South China Sea over the weekend.

"It's global waters, and a lot of nations want to see freedom of navigation, so we'll continue that", Mattis said.

"(The sailings) contravened Chinese and relevant worldwide law, seriously infringed upon Chinese sovereignty (and) harmed strategic mutual trust between the two militaries", he said.

Mattis was heading to Hawaii to attend a change-of-command ceremony for the USA military's Pacific Command. He will be replaced by Admiral Philip Davidson.

He told reporters on the flight that, despite the administration's focus on North Korea, other regional security issues, including the South China Sea, will be top priorities.

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