At the moment, the whole of Asian diplomacy seems to be focused on Singapore. The city, which has become a global financial hub thanks to the “determined” leadership of Lee Kuan Yew (who died in 2015), is not only the agreed-upon meeting place for the upcoming summit between Kim Jong-un and Trump, but also the venue for the Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual event organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) which brings together leaders and professionals in the field of Asian and Pacific defense.
At this event, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has put forward some rather strong accusations directed at China, the country with which Washington has been engaged in tough negotiations over the past few months to try to avert the start of a tariff trade war. The object of Mattis’s criticism was, once again, the South China Sea.
According to the US secretary of defense, Beijing has been engaged in “intimidation” against other Asian countries that are contending for the right to exploit the same stretch of sea, as well as for sovereignty over a number of uninhabited islands, of strategic importance in terms of resources and fishing. “Despite China’s claims to the contrary,” said Mattis, “the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion.”
Mattis added that Chinese President Xi Jinping had not abided by his commitment made in 2015 not to militarize the islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing denies the accusations, even though on several occasions satellite images have shown military activity and the creation of artificial atolls. China is claiming sovereignty over this stretch of sea, in the face of objections from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and, of course, the US.