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US opposes destabilising behaviour by China: US Defence Secretary

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SYDNEY China is destabilising the Indo-Pacific, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday, charging Beijing with predatory economics, intellectual property theft and "weaponising the global commons".

The comments by Mr Esper on his first overseas trip as US 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 weaponising 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 US$3.4 trillion (S$4.7 trillion) in shipping passes each year. Countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam contest the territorial claims. - REUTERS