Pentagon Blocks China From Joining Naval Exercise

Chinese destroyer

The United States has disinvited China from a major US -hosted naval drill this year as an "initial" response to what it sees as Beijing's militarization of islands in the South China Sea, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

The Pentagon canceled the invitation for China to participate in Maritime exercise RIMPAC-2018 due to the "ongoing militarization" of Beijing in the South China sea. Beijing has recently placed anti ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronics jammers on the contested Spratly Islands, along with landing bomber aircraft on Woody Island, another contested land mass.

At issue is the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy presence in the Spratly Islands, an archipelago also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. More than 1,000 military personnel from 27 countries will take part.

"China is only building civilian and some necessary defense facilities on our own islands", he said.

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell hailed the Pentagon's action as a step toward correcting an unbalanced policy in dealing with China.

Washington and Beijing have repeatedly clashed over the status of the islands, with the US Navy periodically sailing through the disputed area in "freedom of navigation operations" (FONOP) and China responding with protest notes and an increased military build-up. "China's continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region".

The move comes after Fox News exclusively reported that the Chinese military had deployed another advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of its contested islands in the South China Sea. "We didn't have evidence at the time he would continue the militarization", he said. The exercise, which has been conducted traditionally near Hawaii, is created to develop interoperability between nations whose navies operate in and around the Indo-Pacific region, officials said.

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China's foreign ministry has repeated denials that the region was being militarised, saying the islands belong to Beijing and the bombers were conducting "normal training".

The drill will take place in June and July.

This year's exercise is scheduled from June 27 to August 2 and includes 46 ships, more than 200 aircraft and 26,000 personnel from 26 countries.

Washington also is engaged in a trade dispute with China over USA complaints about market access and technology policy. Participation in RIMPAC is a sign of legitimacy in the eyes of the global community.

The steady buildup of military assets in the waterway - believed to have significant oil and natural gas deposits - allows China to "influence its weaker neighbours in peacetime", Glaser said. "The overwhelming evidence, in fact, points in the opposite direction. China's behavior and actions have become more recalcitrant, more aggressive, more dismissive of the rule of law, and more risky to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region despite the United States' engagement policy". Several countries participate, and China has been involved since 2014.

Cronin said the decision was unlikely to alter China's plans for the South China Sea.

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