U.S. Navy: Chinese warships maneuvered in "unprofessional" manner

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has in recent weeks been highly critical of alleged abuse suffered by some of the two million Filipino workers in the Middle East

Mattis said other nations in the region are concerned about the weaponization of the islands and reefs, and they want to see continued freedom of navigation operations in the global waters. China sent two of its own warships to the area to warn the US vessels to leave, Beijing said.

However, Mattis's statements, taken as an indirect response to Beijing, argues that Beijing is the one who is in violation of worldwide law, as United Nations tribunals have on repeated occasions ruled against territorial claims of what China calls the cow's tongue or the nine-dash line, a presumptuous assertion that the entire South China Sea is Chinese territory.

Recent reports indicate China has moved air defense systems to the Spratly Islands, the latest move by Beijing to militarize South China Sea outposts.

Mattis said, the US will maintain a "steady drum beat" in the South China Sea to "confront" China for actions that Washington deems to "be out of step with worldwide law" and global tribunal rulings.

The Philippine government has quietly protested after Chinese ships deployed a helicopter that flew "dangerously close" to a Philippine navy boat carrying supplies to Filipino marines based in a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, two officials said Wednesday.

"The occasion is more about exchanges on [military] theories, so by sending academic representatives, we can refute those wrong viewpoints", he said.

"When they (Chinese) do things that are opaque to the rest of us, then we can not cooperate in areas that we would otherwise cooperate in", Mattis said.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which about $3 trillion worth of goods passes every year.

As Beijing stamps its foot in protest after each of the U.S.'s "freedom of navigation" exercises, which are sure to continue, and countries like the Philippines and Vietnam grow increasingly apprehensive of China's activity in the region, it seems the potential for military conflict grows with each passing day.

Cayetano further elaborated that among the territorial issues discussed, with China, were construction activities at a disputed shoal and the unilateral extraction of oil and gas in the region.

"It's global waters, and a lot of nations want to see freedom of navigation, so we'll continue that", Mattis said.

But the latest spat comes amid unusual tension between the USA and China on trade and as President Donald Trump eyes a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear program. -China relations are expected to be a major focus of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Mattis said he spoke Monday with Trump about North Korea, but he declined to comment on the status of the summit preparations.

Mattis was heading to Hawaii to attend a change-of-command ceremony for the US military's Pacific Command. He will also hold separate meetings with the defense ministers of Indonesia and Japan.

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