China slams cancellation of invitation to US-led naval exercise

The Pentagon pulled its invitation for China to join the biennial Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise in the Pacific. PHOTO: U.S. NAVY

BEIJING - The United States' withdrawal of invitation to China for a major naval drill next month is a futile attempt to pressure the country into giving up its inherent rights in the South China Sea, Beijing has said.

China has "indisputable sovereignty" over islands in the South China Sea, and it is unrealistic for the US to use such actions to try and coerce it, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing on Thursday (May 24).

"Whether it invites or does not invite the Chinese side to engage in such exercises does not change China's will to play an active role in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea," he said.

"And it is even less likely to shake China's firm resolve to defend its sovereign and security rights."

The Pentagon on Wednesday pulled its invitation for China to join the biennial Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) maritime exercise in the Pacific "as an initial response to China's continued militarisation of the South China Sea", said an official.

Personnel from more than two dozen countries train together and work on seamanship during the weeks-long exercise organised by the US Navy in the waters around the Hawaiian islands.

"China's continued militarisation of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilise the region," said Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Logan.

He noted China's deployment of weapons such as surface-to-air missiles to contested features in the Spratly (Nansha) Islands and its landing of bomber aircraft on Woody (Yongxing) Island, and said such behaviour "is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the Rimpac exercise".

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have conflicting claims. The US has conducted freedom of navigation operations close to China-claimed areas to challenge what it sees as Beijing's excessive claims.

China's Defence Ministry on Thursday also slammed what it called the US' irresponsible remarks, saying "so-called militarisation" was an excuse to disinvite China from the exercise. Closing the door to communication also does not help build Sino-US military trust and cooperation, it added.

Echoing official statements, Chinese media said Beijing was not bothered by the snub.

"Washington sees its invitation to participate in Rimpac as a gift to China, and US media believe that the exercise brings political prestige to participating countries," the nationalistic Global Times said in an editorial.

"We do not believe that either the Chinese government or the Chinese military sees it as such a big deal."

But Sino-US expert Jin Canrong disagreed, noting that the retracted invite signalled the latest hit to bilateral relations and the growing rivalry between China and the US.

China was a participant in the last two Rimpac exercises. Notably, Chinese and US sailors conducted a joint submarine rescue drill aboard a Chinese vessel during the 2016 exercise.

"The US military is more transparent than the People's Liberation Army (PLA), so Rimpac was one of the few ways for them to observe the PLA up-close," said Prof Jin.

"So this development is actually more disadvantageous for the US."

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