China’s Defence Ministry has expressed regret after the United States withdrew an invitation to China to attend a major U.S.-hosted naval drill.

After years continuing to sail alongside China in the massive Rim of the Pacific naval exercises even as the peer competitor militarized man-made islands in the South China Sea, the U.S. has decided enough is enough, and has rescinded the invite.

“China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Logan said Wednesday. “As an initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the PLA Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise.”

It would have been China’s third consecutive appearance at RIMPAC, an exercise that occurs every two years and last time involved 26 nations and dozens of warships.

The move is just the latest for the Pentagon to call out its peer competitor. Early this month the Pentagon ordered all military commissaries to stop selling cellphones, modems and other electronics by Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE from their shelves, citing an espionage risk.

China has been building up those man-made islands, which now include fully operational runways and surface-to-air defenses, since 2014.

The U.S. continued to engage with China and invited the peer competitor to the 2014 and 2016 exercises. During that time China continued to say the islands were primarily for non-military purposes.

In the statement announcing China’s 2018 exclusion, the Pentagon said “we have strong evidence that China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and electronic jammers to contested features in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea. China’s landing of bomber aircraft at Woody Island has also raised tensions.”

“The placement of these weapon systems is only for military use,” the Pentagon said.

Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."

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