By Lalit K Jha Washington, May 24 (PTI) Alleging that Beijing is engaged in "destabilising behaviour" in the South China Sea, the Pentagon today kicked out China from its annual maritime military exercise.
"China's continued militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea only serves to raise tensions and destabilise the region", Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, a spokesman at the US Defence Department, said in a statement explaining the withdrawal of China's invitation to the 2018 Rim of the Pacific naval drills.
China has been lodging territorial claims in the South China Sea, a strategic maritime route that for a long time has been an apple of discord between Beijing and Southeast Asian countries.
China's de facto takeover of islets claimed by several other countries, including US ally the Philippines, and its construction of a military capacity to control vital worldwide sea lanes represent a failure of more than one administration. "China's landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions", Logan said.
"China is only building civilian and some necessary defense facilities on our own islands".
The decision to exclude China from the exercise is likely to intensify tensions with a country the Pentagon has identified, along with Russian Federation, as a chief rival to American military power and a focus of planning.
He said China's activity in the South China Sea was for self-defense and that it was done on a "much smaller scale" than what the United States had done in Hawaii and Guam.
Since then, China has significantly bolstered its military presence in the disputed South China Sea, despite a ruling by an worldwide arbitration tribunal in the summer of 2016 discrediting Beijing's extensive claims to the region. He added that "we've expressed consistent concern about militarization in the South China Sea, and I will leave it to our militaries to talk about their efforts together". It is not clear how the RIMPAC decision, which was authorized by Mattis, may affect that trip.
"In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in scenarios short of war with the United States", Davidson said in his testimony last month. China participated in the drills for the first time in 2014, when it surprisingly sent an uninvited Dongdiao-class auxiliary general intelligence ship to spy on the drills.
And on Tuesday, he suggested that Chinese President Xi Jinping might have played a role in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's recent threats to withdraw from a planned summit with the US. The founding nations are Australia, Canada and the United States.
A Pentagon official said that China was notified about its exclusion from the exercises, which last about a month, on Wednesday morning.