China, US Defense Chiefs Hold Talks at Asia Security Summit

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Shanahan to call out China on its militarization of the South China Sea
May 31, 2019 Updated: May 31, 2019

SINGAPORE—Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan held talks on May 31 at an Asia security summit in Singapore, a meeting the Pentagon said was “constructive and productive,” amid heightened tensions between the two countries over trade and security.

The meeting comes even as Shanahan told reporters on Friday that Chinese militarization of the South China was “excessive” and that he would be calling out such Chinese actions in a speech on Saturday.

The United States and China, locked in an escalating trade war, are also at odds over a series of strategic issues, from the disputed South China Sea to democratic Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory, to be taken by force if needed.

Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buccino, a Pentagon spokesman, said Shanahan found their 20-minute meeting to be “constructive and productive.”

“The two leaders discussed ways to build military-to-military relations that reduce the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation between our nations,” Buccino said.

He added that Shanahan discussed how the two militaries could better cooperate to enforce North Korea sanctions.

“Secretary Shanahan hopes to build on this evening’s discussion with future engagements,” Buccino said.

Prior to the meeting, Shanahan stuck an optimistic tone and told reporters that the relationship between the two militaries had “a lot of potential.”

He said he had several proposals to improve relations with Beijing that he would discuss with Wei.

Call Out Chinese Behavior

Before his meeting with Wei, Shanahan—who on his first day in his role in January said the U.S. military would focus on “China, China, China”—said he would use a speech on Saturday to call out China specifically.

“This part might be viewed as spicy kind of call out good behaviors, bad behaviors and there’s parts of this where I think it’s appropriate not to ignore,” Shanahan said, adding that China’s military actions in the South China Sea had been excessive.

“They argue that it is defensive, it looks like it’s a bit overkill, surface to air missiles, long runways … it seems excessive,” Shanahan said.

China and the United States have repeatedly traded barbs over what Washington says is Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs.

A view of Philippine occupied (Pagasa) Thitu island in disputed South China Sea on April 21, 2017. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

The Chinese regime claims that it has historical ownership over nearly the entire region, which gives it the right to manufacture islands, declare defensive perimeters around its artificial islands, and to chase ships from other nations out of the South China Sea.

However, on July 12,  2016, an arbitration court in The Hague found the Chinese regime’s claims to be false. In the U.N. tribunal’s ruling, China’s claims to virtually the entirety of the South China Sea were dismissed by the 5-member tribunal as having no historical basis. It was also determined that the multiple artificial islands that have been built by and used as bases by the Chinese military do not constitute territory entitled to zones of economic exclusivity. Rather, they were found to be in violation of the sovereignty of the Philippines.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) immediately rejected the tribunal’s decision. A statement from its Foreign Ministry said it viewed the decision as “null and void and has no binding force.” It would “neither accept nor participate in the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines.” The true impact is uncertain given the tribunal has no power of enforcement, The Associated Press reported on July 12, 2016.

Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims to the waterway, through which passes about a third of global seaborne trade.

By Idrees Ali. The Epoch Times contributed to this report.