North Korea a 'clear and present danger', US defence secretary warns

Trump - who frequently denounced China on the campaign trail - has turned to Beijing to help rein in North Korea's weapons programme.

According to Mattis, US President Donald Trump's administration considers China's commitment to the shared goal of denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula encouraging, but urged Beijing to act.

As tensions have increased between Pyongyang and Washington, the USA has been pressing China to rein in Kim Jong Un's nuclear programme.

In his speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Mattis sought to balance his hopeful comments on China with sharp criticism of what he called Beijing's disregard for international law by its "indisputable militarization" of artificial islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

The UN security council unanimously passed a resolution against North Korea Friday after the regime launched its ninth ballistic missile test of the year.

"We will continue the pressure until North Korea stops its threats and provocations".

He said Pyongyang's missile tests were a response to those military drills, which it views as a "gun pointed at North Korea".

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan and several southeast Asian nations.

China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Japan was concerned over changes to the security situation in both bodies of water, she said, implying China bore most of the responsibility, without directly naming the country.

China, which sent only a low-key delegation to the forum, said its ties with the United States were vital for the region.

However, he reiterated the US' willingness to work closely with China diplomatically and economically, and to build a constructive, result-oriented and mutually beneficial relationship.

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Mattis' trip is his second to Asia since he took over the Pentagon on January 20.

The annual defense summit brings together ministers and delegates from over 50 countries to discuss security challenges and opportunities.

"As a Pacific nation, we have enduring interests and commitments in the Asia-Pacific region", Mattis said, referring in part to USA defense treaties with Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines.

Mattis gave reassurance that USA regional engagement remains firm, countering concerns about the Trump administration's possible intentions.

"The adventurism of Pyongyang is not something that should provide us with a pretext for the increase of military activity in the region, much less for the implementation of plans of using force", he said.

"The current North Korean program signals a clear intent to acquire nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, including those of intercontinental range, that pose direct and immediate threats to our regional allies, partners and all the world", Mattis said, adding that Pyongyang's actions "are manifestly illegal under worldwide law".

"We oppose countries militarizing artificial islands and enforcing excessive maritime claims unsupported by worldwide law", he said.

Mattis also said the U.S. administration was pleased to see China working with them on ways to counter North Korea's continued weapons development, though he had harsh words for China regarding their activities in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne said: "It didn't take Secretary of Defence Mattis's speech this morning to reassure me of the attitude and engagement of the United States in the region".

"They (U.S.) are now bluffing, bragging about the "success" in the test and the efficiency of the missile interception system".

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