Mattis on Saturday referred to that disinvitation as an "initial response" to China, but he did not outline any additional steps that may be taken. Mattis called the US action a "relatively small effect". He said Beijing was intimidating and coercing others in the region by putting weapons systems on manmade islands. "There are consequences that will continue to come home to roost, so to speak, with China, if they don't find a way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations who have interests".
Old disputes between the US and China have flared up amid the Trump administration's efforts to counter Chinese influence.
"We did not do freedom of navigation for America alone, we do freedom of navigation, give freedom for all nations, large and small, that need to transit those waters for their own prosperity and they have every reason to do so", he said.
"Despite China's claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion", Mattis told the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Taiwan and China, which are hundreds of miles to the north, also claim some of the islands.
Last month the U.S. withdrew an invitation for the Chinese navy to take part in a training excercise called Rim of the Pacific because the Pentagon said it had strong evidence that China had deployed weapons systems on disputed islands.
The Chinese government and the Chinese people resolutely oppose USA arms sales to Taiwan as well as any official contact with Taiwan and upgrading ties with Taiwan in any way, said He Lei, vice president of the Academy of Military Science of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. It remains to be seen if that invitation will stand after this conference.
Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhuo said a USA move a couple years ago to send two warships into China's "territorial waters" was a violation of law, and an "obvious provocation to China's national security and territorial integrity".
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Reuters first reported that two U.S. Navy warships sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by China on Sunday.
"What we see it as, is a reaffirmation of the rules-based order". The summit is expected to be here in Singapore. Mattis's comments appeared to be an attempt to reaffirm the US commitment to Asia's security, even as President Donald Trump's decisions to levy tariffs on allies and withdraw from global agreements raise questions about America's postwar alliances.
The previous week the USA had withdrawn an invitation for Beijing to participate in the exercise known as Rim of the Pacific. China had participated in these exercises in 2014 and 2016.
Woody Island, which China calls Yongxing, is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
He Lei, the head of the Chinese delegation to the dialogue, said the islands were Chinese territory and it was "a sovereign and legal right for China to place our army and military weapons there".
"We are focused on modernizing our alliance with both the Republic of Korea and Japan, transforming these critical alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century", Mr. Mattis said, using South Korea's formal name.
Two US warships sailed close to the Paracel Islands on May 27 in the latest freedom of navigation operation created to challenge Beijing's claims.