May 07, 2020 / 08:35

China acts aggressively in South China Sea: US defense secretary

China is blamed to attempt to exploit the Covid-19 crisis to their benefit at the expense of others.

The Chinese Army is indulging in aggressive behavior in the South China Sea at a time when the world’s attention is mostly to coronavirus fighting, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday.

 US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at the Pentagon Briefing Room in on August 28, 2019. Photo: Department of Defense

“While the Chinese Communist Party ramps up its disinformation campaign to try to shift blame and burnish its image, we continue to see aggressive behavior by the PLA in the South China Sea, from threatening a Philippine Navy ship to sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat and intimidating other nations from engaging in offshore oil and gas development,” Esper told reporters at a Pentagon news conference.

Many countries have turned inward to recover from the pandemic and in the meantime, America’s strategic competitors are attempting to exploit the Covid-19 crisis to their benefit at the expense of others, the US Department of Defense cited Esper.

“Last week, two US Navy ships conducted freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to send a clear message to Beijing that we will continue to protect freedom of navigation and commerce for all nations, large and small,” Esper emphasized.

In answering to a question, Esper said the Chinese have not been transparent from the beginning. “If they had been more transparent, more open up font in terms of the giving us access, the reporting, giving us access, not just to the people on the ground, but to the virus they had so we can understand it, we’d probably be in a far different place right now,” he stated.

China needs to allow the US in to talk to early patients, Chinese researchers and scientists, and to have access, he added.

Instead, Esper alleged that the Chinese are trying to capitalize on this by promoting their own image that somehow China is the good guy here.

“Despite everything they did or, more importantly, failed to do, now they want to go out and say well, here’s masks. We will give you masks, provide this, or provide that, we will provide you funding. Look at all the good things we are doing,” he said.

But in many cases, Chinese medical supplies are not good, Esper said. “So there is a number of things they are doing to try and burnish their image. That is just two of them right there,” he stressed.

The Chinese are also doing a lot of strong-arming behind the scenes, Esper said and referred to the war of words between China and Australia. He said he plans to talk to his Australian counterpart later in the day.

“All these activities are going on. It is straight from the Chinese playbook. Once again, it is just a little bit more obvious this time with what they are doing and how they are using a combination of compelling and coercion and everything else to try and shape the narrative and burnish the image of the Chinese Communist Party,” Esper noted.