US Defence Secretary James Mattis has said that countries in Asia and Indo-Pacific region want America's engagement because they are worried about the "massive piling" of Chinese debt, describing the country as one of the three threats to the world today.
The US would cooperate with China where it can and confront where it must like the freedom of navigation in international waters, he said at the US Institute of Peace (USIP).
"I just got back from Singapore, met with ASEAN, two weeks ago, where we are welcome, where many nations, in private, will tell us why they need us engaged out there because they're concerned about what China is doing and the piling of massive debt...," Mattis said Tuesday.
"And then you see what happened in Sri Lanka, where they lost sovereignty over their own harbour. One of those issues, I'll be talking, obviously, with my counterpart about here in Washington, shortly," he said in response to a question on China, which he described as one of the three threats that the world faces today.
"'How did we look at the threats in the world?' he asked and said that the US looks at them from three different angles: power, urgency and will. We're in a competition of sorts to maintain this world and turn it over, hopefully, in slightly better condition than we received it.
"In terms of raw power right now, I look at Russia and the nuclear arsenal they have. I look at their activities over the last 10 years from Georgia and Crimea to the Donets Basin, to Syria... their violations of INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty), for example. But in terms of just power, I think it's clearly Russia that we have to look at and address," Mattis said.
In terms of urgency, there's two, one is the current fight against violent extremists. For example, the Defeat of the ISIS coalition is 70 nations plus four international organisations working on that fight that is ongoing, he said.
"We must continue... that character of warfare that is very unusual. We call it irregular, but at the same time in terms of urgency, is the DPRK, the North Korea nuclear and missile programmes that are clearly a violation of international sanctions, they are clearly a threat to peace and stability," he said.
However, in terms of the will, clearly, it's China, Mattis said, adding that Beijing is different than Russia.
Russia wants security around its periphery by having an insecurity with other nations. They want to veto authority over the economic, the diplomatic and the security decisions of the nations around them.
"China, on the other hand, seems to want some sort of tribute states around them. We are looking for how do we work with China," Mattis added.
(With inputs from agencies.)