China is destabilising the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. Defence Secretary,Mr. Mark Esper, has said, charging Beijing with predatory economics, intellectual property theft and 'weaponizing the global commons'.
These comments on his first overseas trip as U.S. defence secretary threaten to inflame already heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing as they wage an escalating trade war.
China's increasing assertiveness, especially in the energy-rich South China Sea, has raised concerns within the region and the US is challenging Chinese maritime hegemony and seeking stronger ties with nations pushing back against Beijing.
'We firmly believe no one nation can or should dominate the Indo-Pacific and we are working alongside our allies and partners to address the region's pressing security needs,' Mr. Esper told reporters in Sydney.
'We also stand firmly against a disturbing pattern of aggressive behaviour, destabilising behaviour from China. This includes weaponizing the global commons, using predatory economics and debt for sovereignty deals, and promoting state-sponsored theft of other nations' intellectual property.' China has unnerved the region and angered the US by installing military equipment and other facilities on artificial islands it has made in the disputed South China Sea.
China claims large parts of the South China Sea through which roughly 3.4 trillion dollars in shipping passes each year. Countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam contest these claims.
The U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Mike Pompeo, on Friday decried 'decades of bad behaviour' from China that have hampered free trade, laying out a case at a Southeast Asian forum in Bangkok for Washington's trade war with Beijing.
The U.S. President, Mr. Donald Trump, had on Thursday slapped 10% tariffs on 300 billion dollars in Chinese imports, stunning financial markets and ending a month-long trade war truce. China vowed on Friday to fight back.
Both Mr.Esper and Mr. Pompeo met with their Australian counterparts in Sydney on Sunday at an annual security forum where the US and Australia pledged to strengthen opposition to Chinese activities in the Pacific.