Beijing, China. America’s recent announcement that it challenges China’s right to develop areas in the South China Sea, has left Chinese officials stunned, as they ask, “When did they move the South China Sea to the USA?”

America will not accept China’s militarisation of man-made islands in the South China Sea, Defence Secretary James Mattis has warned. Speaking at a security conference in Singapore, he said such moves undermined American control of the region.

While speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue forum, Gen Mattis said: “We oppose countries militarising artificial islands and enforcing excessive maritime claims,”We cannot and will not accept unilateral, coercive changes to the status quo.”

For its part, the Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing would “remain firm to defend its rights in the region.” But in Singapore Gen Mattis also struck a positive note on US-China relations, saying that while competition between the two countries “is bound to occur, conflict is not inevitable”

Experts are not so sure. In a graphic from the Chinese naval journal “Naval & Merchant Ships” that stands out as both unusual and singularly disturbing. It purports to map the impact of a Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strike by just twenty nuclear-armed rockets against the United States.

Targets include the biggest cities on the East and West Coasts, as well as in the Midwest, as one would expect. Giant radiation plumes cover much of the country and the estimate in the caption holds that the strike “would yield perhaps 50 million people killed.” The map below that graphic on the same page illustrates the optimal aim point for a hit on New York City with a “blast wave” that vaporizes all of Manhattan and well beyond.

President Donald Trump and other senior US officials have repeatedly stated that they would protect its interests in the South China Sea, a key shipping route. During his nomination hearing earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the US was “going to have to send China a clear signal that first the island-building stops, and second your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

The biggest question amongst Asian delegates attending the forum has been how much of a role the US will continue to play in this increasingly tense region, the News Front’s correspondent in Singapore reports.

As one can see from this discussion, there is ample reason for anxiety with many new Chinese nuclear systems now coming online, as well as substantial reason for caution. China’s high-speed rail has spent astronomical sums of money on that system that could just as easily have been spent building an enormous arsenal of nuclear weaponry. That was not done and it’s certainly good that Chinese leaders have their priorities straight.

American strategists like Mattis need to keep this Chinese restraint in mind, especially as they weigh interference in an area far from their own shores, the only purpose of is to deny China the very rights America will not give up in its own hemisphere.

Populism does not have to mean international intervention. Trump originally promised to close foreign bases, bring the troops home, leave NATO and end American intervention. The Mattis message is not encouraging news for those seeking peace.

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