US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis began a one week trip to Southeast Asia on Sunday, days after the Pentagon released a new defense strategy which reflected a renewed focus on China.
The National Defense Strategy, released on Friday, emphasizes a return to “great power competition” between the United States, China and Russia.
“What we’re looking for is a world where we solve problems and we don’t shred trust, we don’t militarize features in the middle of international waters, we don’t invade other countries, in Russia’s case,” Mattis was quoted by Voice of America as saying on his flight to Jakarta.
Washington’s top military official added that his visits to Indonesia and Vietnam show that “we respect these countries and we respect their sovereign decisions.”
“What we want out here [is] … a peaceful, prosperous, and free Asia, with a free and open regional order defined by the rule of law,” he added.
As a claimant to territory disputed with China, Vietnam has been outspoken in criticism of recent Chinese actions in the region. Indonesia, meanwhile, does not consider itself a claimant nation, but has renamed a portion of the South China Sea in defiance of Beijing.
In response to the National Defense Plan released Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry suggested the US was the true aggressor in the eyes of the international community.
“Who is really selectively using or ignoring international norms? Who is interfering in the domestic politics of other countries, even using the threat of military force?,” ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying asked.
“Believe that the people of every country in the world see this very clearly, have their own public opinion,” she added.