WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Wednesday withdrew an invitation to China to participate in a major Pacific naval exercise, citing Beijing’s “continued militarization” of the South China Sea, adding another irritant to relations between the two nations as they jostle over trade and North Korea.
The Trump administration move comes days after China landed bombers for the first time on a manmade island it controls in the Paracel Islands, one of several South China Sea archipelagos claimed by multiple countries in the region.
The Pentagon said it also had “strong evidence” that Beijing has installed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers in the Spratly Islands since it launched a crash reclamation effort in 2014 to build five manmade islands from tiny reefs and shoals.
The latest tension in the regional hotspot comes as President Donald Trump has alternately praised and complained about China’s role before his planned June 12 summit with North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un, and as the White House has threatened to impose massive tariffs on Chinese imports to help stem the U.S. trade deficit.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis made the decision to withdraw China’s invitation to take part in the Rim of the Pacific, or RimPac, naval exercises after consulting with the White House about Beijing’s military moves, according to a U.S. official.
China has participated in the last two RimPacs as part of a U.S. effort to draw its military into a more cooperative relationship. The biannual exercise is organized by U.S. Pacific Command and involves naval forces from multiple Asian countries. It takes place in waters around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
This year’s exercise is scheduled from June 27 to Aug. 2 and includes 46 ships, more than 200 aircraft and 26,000 personnel from 26 countries. Half the participating ships are U.S. Navy vessels.