All Sunday papers reported on the ongoing Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, focusing on strong criticism of China’s maritime advancement in the South China Sea voiced by Secretary of Defense Mattis on Saturday. In remarks to the annual security conference, the U.S. defense chief accused China of “intimidation and coercion” in the Indo-Pacific and declared the U.S.’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding its interests in the region by saying: “China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness our strategy promotes…. Make no mistake. America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater.”
Citing an unnamed DOD official, Asahi asserted that the Secretary revised his speech repeatedly up until the last minute in an effort to convey the U.S.’s strong concern about China’s rapid militarization of the South China Sea. The dailies said participants from other nations, including Japan and Vietnam, echoed the Secretary’s criticism of China’s conduct. Chinese officials reportedly reacted very strongly.
In a related development, all papers wrote that Secretary Mattis held a trilateral meeting with his Japanese and Australian counterparts on the margins of the international confab on Saturday, saying that with China in mind, the three ministers agreed to draw up guidelines for trilateral defense cooperation called “strategic action agenda.”
Meanwhile, Sunday’s Sankei wrote that the South Korean defense minister criticized remarks made at the Shangri-La meeting by Defense Minister Onodera, who expressed doubts about North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization. The South Korean official reportedly stressed that dialogue with the North may be disrupted if Tokyo remains skeptical of the Kim regime’s intentions.