China has legitimate right to deploy military facilities in S

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Referring to maritime issues, including those in the South China Sea, Modi said his country did not see the region as a club of limited members.

When U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis takes the stage Saturday at a major Asia-Pacific security summit, he's widely expected to deliver a stern criticism of recent Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, poses with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a meeting on the sidelines of the 17th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defense and security forum in Asia, at the Istana or presidential palace, Friday, June 1, in Singapore.

"The United States military presence in the South China Sea is greater than that of China and other countries that surround the seas combined", Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.

Mattis was speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

The comments came on the heels of a string of events that highlight the tension between the world's two biggest economies over the South China Sea's disputed waters.

"The placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the goal of intimidation and coercion", Mattis said.

Lt. Gen. He Lei, vice president of the People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science said China has the right to defend those territories and weapons and troop deployed in those areas only have a defensive objective and warned of serious consequences if any country tries to enter those islands illegaly.

But he also said the USA welcomes cooperation with China "wherever possible", and announced that he has accepted Beijing's invitation to visit soon.

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Critics say the patrols have little impact on Beijing and mask the lack of a broader strategy to deal with the growing influence of China.

The South China Sea is a highly contentious area in which China, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines have competing claims.

Challenged from the floor of the conference by several delegates, Mattis gave a forceful defense of the US' commitment to its allies in the region, stretching back to Thomas Jefferson, through to the 1945 defeat of fascism and Cold War encroachments by the former Soviet Union.

"We have to make it clear that nations need to play by the rules and that there are consequences for not doing so", he added.

Mattis also touched on Taiwan, a longstanding dispute between the US and China. "We see it as affirmation of the rules-based worldwide order".

Mattis also criticized China's "Belt and Road" initiative without explicitly naming the program, saying that Beijing has to rethink twice if they believe "piling mountainous debts on their neighbors and somehow removing the freedom of political action is the way to engage with them".

Beijing sent a relatively low-level delegation to this year's Shangri-La forum, which was dominated by the United States and its allies.

Talking about the upcoming summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Mattis said that the issue of US troops in South Korea was "not on the table" at the June 12 meet.

He added that the status of USA troops in South Korea was not on the table when Trump and Kim meet, but left the door open to the issue being discussed down the road between Seoul and Washington if certain conditions were met.

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