United States Defence Secretary Jim Mattis on Saturday accused China of intimidation and coercion in the South China Sea, Reuters reported. Mattis said the Donald Trump administration was willing to work with Beijing on a “results-oriented” relationship, but China’s actions prompt Washington to “compete vigorously”.

Mattis was speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. “China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness that our strategy promotes, it calls into question China’s broader goals,” said Mattis who is scheduled to visit Beijing later this month.

In May, the United States had disinvited China from participating in annual maritime exercises in the Pacific in protest against Beijing’s militarisation of the South China Sea. A Penatagon statement had said it had “strong evidence” that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers to the Spratly Island region of the South China Sea. Washington had called on Beijing to remove these systems, AP reported.

“Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis said.

South China Sea dispute

Several countries – China, Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei – have been fighting over the resource-rich South China Sea for years. China has claimed nearly 90% of the territory, which is defined by the nine-dash line, and has also issued a map to back its claims.

In July 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favour of the Philippines and said Beijing has no legal basis to claim “historic rights” over South China Sea. The Permanent Court of Arbitration accused China of breaching the sovereign rights of the Philippines by exploring resources near the Reed Bank. However, the Chinese government called the verdict “ill-founded”. Beijing also said that its “territorial sovereignty and marine rights” in the seas would not be affected by the verdict.