Pentagon disinvites China from major naval exercise over South China Sea buildup

The Pentagon disinvited China from participating in a major naval exercise on Wednesday, signaling mounting U.S. anger over Beijing’s expanded military footprint in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, said the Defense Department had reversed an earlier invitation to the Chinese Navy to the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), a biennual naval exercise that includes more than two dozen nations, over its decision to place anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jammers in the contested Spratly Islands. China has also landed bomber aircraft at Woody Island, farther to the north in the disputed Paracel Islands, the Pentagon said.

“While China has maintained that the construction of the islands is to ensure safety at sea, navigation assistance, search and rescue, fisheries protection, and other non-military functions, the placement of these weapon systems is only for military use,” Logan said in a statement.

While the Trump administration does not assert a U.S. claim to the islands and smaller features, it has challenged Chinese claims of sovereignty over virtually all the South China Sea, which U.S. allies in the region see as key to their economic interests and security.

Chinese officials were notified about its exlcusion from RIMPAC, which last about a month, on Wednesday morning, a Pentagon official said. Beijing began participating in the exercise in 2014. There was no immediate public response from the Chinese government.

Logan described China’s activities as a “violation of the promise that [Chinese] President Xi made to the United States and the world.”

“We have called on China to remove the military systems immediately and to reverse course on the militarization of disputed South China Sea features,” Logan said.