Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan's first major speech since taking over the role in January was a doozy.
Shanahan addressed an audience at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore — Asia's biggest security gathering, per Reuters — on Saturday. His speech focused heavily on China, a country with which he says he hopes to foster a military relationship. However, he did not tread lightly regarding some of China's more aggressive actions in the region.
"We're not going to ignore Chinese behavior and I think in the past people have kind of tiptoed around that," Shanahan said. Shanahan, without specifically naming China, warned against "actors who seek to undermine, rather than uphold, the rules-based international order," threatening regional stability in the process. He mentioned that "artificial features in the global commons" could become "tollbooths," which Reuters reports was a reference to islands built by Beijing in the South China Sea.
A senior Chinese military official responded to Shanahan's comments, arguing that Shanahan's speech was hypocritical and that the U.S.'s actions regarding Taiwan and the South China Sea were threatening to de-stabilize the region, as well. U.S. lawmakers, on the other hand, reacted with bipartistan positivity toward Shanahan's speech. Tim O'Donnell
In a direct challenge to China's territorial and maritime claims, on Tuesday the U.S. sailed a navy destroyer within 12 nautical miles of a cluster of artificial islands that China constructed in the South China Sea, known as the Spratly Archipelago. In response, Chinese media issued bristling editorials suggesting the nation wouldn't be afraid to fight back against U.S. aggression.
"In [the] face of U.S. harassment, Beijing should deal with Washington tactfully and prepare for the worst," one newspaper said, as reported by The Guardian. "This can convince the White House that China, despite its unwillingness, is not frightened to fight a war with the U.S. in the region, and is determined to safeguard its natural interests and dignity."
Another newspaper accused the U.S. of a pattern of kicking up trouble: "Cast-iron facts show that time and again the United States recklessly uses force and starts wars, stirring things up where once there was stability, causing the bitterest of harm to those countries directly involved."
"The United States has been very irresponsible. We will take any measures necessary to safeguard our security," Chinese defense spokesperson Yang Yujun was additionally quoted as saying.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, however, has warned that the United States plans to take full advantage of its "freedom of navigation." "We will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law permits," Carter told a congressional hearing. More operations in the region are planned.
China's moves in the South China Sea rival claims by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Taiwan. The islands, which used to be submerged during high tide, have been built up by China supposedly for civilian purposes, but also host three military-length airstrips. The United States believes the islands are in international waters and China's claim threatens busy trade routes through the region. Jeva Lange