US disinvites China from multinational military exercise

May 23, 2018 - 11:58 am
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon said Wednesday it has withdrawn an invitation for China to participate in a multinational naval exercise the U.S. is hosting this summer, a sign of fresh tension between Pacific powers.

The move comes amid high-stakes maneuvering over North Korea's nuclear program, which is scheduled to be the subject of a meeting in June between President Donald Trump and the North's leader, Kim Jong Un. Trump on Tuesday said he suspected that the North's recent talk of scrapping the summit could reflect influence from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who recently met with Kim.

Washington also is engaged in a sprawling trade dispute with China over U.S. complaints about market access and technology policy.

The U.S. had included China the past two years in the large-scale exercise known as Rim of the Pacific, or RimPac, as part of an effort during the Obama administration to stabilize military relations with Beijing, which have been disrupted many times by China's objections to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

A Pentagon statement said the decision to disinvite the Chinese navy was "an initial response" to what it called China's militarization of the South China Sea. China's Defense Ministry had said in January that it was consulting with the U.S. over an invitation to take part in RimPac.

The Pentagon cited what it called strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers to contested areas in the Spratly Island region of the South China Sea. It called on China to remove these systems.

"China's continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region," a Pentagon spokesman, Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, said.

"As an initial response to China's continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the PLA Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise," he added. "China's behavior is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise."

The Pentagon also cited its objections to China's recent landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island.

China maintains that the South China Sea is its sovereign territory.

"We believe these recent deployments and the continued militarization of these features is a violation of the promise that President Xi made to the United States and the world not to militarize the Spratly Islands," Logan said.

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