On May 3, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders issued a warning to China over the growing militarization of the South China Sea region:
“We’re well-aware of China’s militarization of the South China Sea,” Sanders said. “There will be near-term and long-term consequences.”
A spokeswoman for the US Department of Defense Dana White also expressed concerns over the current situation in the South China Sea:
“We’ve been very vocal about our concerns about them militarizing these artificial islands,” spokeswoman said. “China has to realize that they’ve benefited from the free navigation of the sea. And the U.S. Navy has been the guarantor of that.”
These comments followed May 2 reports over China’s deployments of anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles in three outposts of the South China Sea. According to CNBC, missile systems were moved to the Spratlys within the past 30 days to Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, which is 216 km from the Philippines. The parts of these islands are claimed by multiple regional states including the Philippines and Vietnam.
A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry Hua Chunying said that “necessary national defense facilities” on the Spratly Islands “are meant to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security”. She stressed that “no reason to worry about” over the Chinese missiles deployment in the region.
On May 7, Chinese Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang said that although China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have different views on the South China Sea issues, they would maintain peace and stability in the region.
“Together China and ASEAN will safeguard regional stability. And together we will safeguard peace, stability, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea,” Li Keqiang said at a press conference in Indonesia.
On May 3, US and Philippine forces launched their largest joint military exercises under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. According to Philippine officials, the exercises are the part of the annual Balikatan military training focused on developing skills in fighting terrorism, chemical attacks and disaster response. Forces from the US, the Philippines, Australia, and Japan will also participate in major training events this year.
Amid the tensions in the South China Sea, negotiations over economic issues are also ongoing between China and the US.
On May 7, Sarah Sanders pointed out that the trade talks would continue in Washington as both countries “are working on something that we think will be great for everybody.”
“China’s top economic advisor, the Vice Premier, will be coming here next week to continue the discussions with the President’s economic team, and we’ll keep you posted as discussions are ongoing,” spokeswoman said at the press briefing.
On May 3, the US trade delegation arrived in Beijing to hold 2-day talks with Chinese officials on trade policies. The discussions aimed to cover issues in the economical standoff of countries. However, none detailed information hasn’t been provided so far.
On May 8, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang described the US statement as a “positive signal” over the economic ties:
““We have noted the statements made by the White House spokesperson, which, we believe, demonstrate that the US side hopes to reach consensus on trade issues with China. This is a positive signal.”
Trade tensions raised on April 3, when Washington published a list of 1,333 Chinese imports with worth about $50 billion, for punitive tariffs of 25 %. On April 5, the US President Donald Trump stated the readiness to increase the tariffs up to $ 100 million. On April 6, China promised to respond with the same measures to the USA.