Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Washington, DC just days after a high-level Chinese trade delegation headed home. While trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies may have eased slightly, concerns over the South China Sea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have revealed new strains.
Wang met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday for one hour. Wang was on his way back to China after attending the G7 Foreign Minister’s meeting in Argentina earlier this week.
Wang’s meeting with Pompeo came just hours after the U.S. Department of Defense issued a statement rescinding China’s invitation to the Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, naval exercises, due to begin next month. RIMPAC is considered the world’s largest maritime war games. It is hosted by the U.S. in Hawaii every two years. In 2016, more than 25-thousand people from 26 nations participated. China has taken part twice.
Officials said U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reached the conclusion to disinvite China in conjunction with the White House.
South China Sea
Washington said it was concerned over Chinese naval activities on disputed islands in the South China Sea. Wednesday’s statement from a U.S. Department of Defense spokesman said, “We have called on China to remove the military systems immediately and to reverse course on the militarization of disputed South China Sea features. We believe these recent deployments and the continued militarization of these features is a violation of the promise that President Xi made to the United States and the World not to militarize the Spratly Islands.” China refers to the islands as the Nansha Islands. They are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei).
Last week, China confirmed that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force landed a bomber at an airport in the South China Sea for the first time. On Wednesday, Pompeo deferred questions about the RIMPAC decision to the U.S. Pentagon. But Wang criticized the American decision as “very unconstructive” and one that was “taken lightly.”
“We hope the U.S. will change such a negative mindset,” Wang said. “Both China and the U.S. are big countries that are well positioned to have cooperation at sea. Military-to-military exchanges will help to increase mutual trust. It will also help us to make greater efforts toward world peace and stability.”
Wang also urged the Americans not to “exaggerate” the matter. “China is only building civilian — and some necessary defense — facilities on our own islands. That is the right to self-defense and preservation of every sovereign state,” Wang said. “It is a normal deployment and has nothing to do with militarization.”
Wang also reiterated China’s support for an upcoming summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un. The face-to-face meeting is due to take place in Singapore on June 12th. Last week, Pyongyang — citing ongoing U.S.-South Korean military drills — suggested the Singapore meeting might be cancelled. The Trump administration then started backing away from expectations, even though the president himself had been at the forefront of the hype surrounding the possible historic event.
Trump on Wednesday said he will know next week whether the meeting will take place. In the meantime, the U.S. will continue its so-called “maximum pressure campaign” against the DPRK, according to Pompeo.
Earlier on Wednesday, Pompeo told U.S. lawmakers the U.S. is ready to walk away from negotiations with Pyongyang if those talks head in the wrong direction. “It is my view that we have made zero concessions to Chairman Kim to date,” Pompeo said on Capitol Hill, “and we have no intention of doing so.”
After their meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Wang said China is fully committed to strictly implementing UN Security Council resolutions on the DPRK, and will “continue to work to maintain peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.” But he urged both Washington and Pyongyang to not miss a historic opportunity. “If you want to solve the problem, now is the time,” Wang said. “If you want to make peace, now is the time. If you want to make history, now is the time.”
Pompeo also said the U.S is looking into reports that an American consulate worker based in Guangzhou in Southern China may have been the victim of a sonic attack similar to what Washington claims happened to diplomats in Havana more than a year ago. The worker has returned to the U.S. for more evaluations. The Americans say they have asked China for its help, and have warned U.S. nationals about “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure.”
Pompeo praised China’s handling of the matter. “They have responded in a way that is exactly the right response,” Pompeo said, standing beside Wang. “They’ve honored their commitment under the Vienna Convention to take care of the diplomats that are serving in their country, and we truly appreciate this. They’ve offered to assist us in investigating how this came to be and … so we’re working together to resolve it. I hope we can figure it out. It’s very important that each and every one of our officers, wherever they’re serving in the world, is protected and taken care of.”
Wang said that China has been investigating the matter and believes it is an isolated case. “We haven’t found that any organization or individual has carried out such a sonic influence,” Wang said. “We don’t want to see that this individual case will be magnified, complicated, or even politicized. We hope people will not associate it with other unnecessary matters. China will, in accordance with the law, protect all the lawful rights and interests of foreigners in China, especially those of diplomats. That’s our firm commitment.”
Wang and Pompeo also discussed recent positions in the White House related to the region of Taiwan. In March, U.S. President Donald Trump sign the so-called Taiwan Travel Act. The Act “encourages visits between officials of the United States and Taiwan at all levels.” China said it violates Washington’s previous agreements with China.
In brief remarks, Pompeo said there was no change in the U.S. position. But Wang reiterated China’s zero-tolerance policy.
“This touches upon the political foundations of China-U.S. relations,” Wang said. “We would urge the U.S. to honor the One-China principle, and the stipulations in the three joint communiqués, and prudently and properly manage Taiwan-related issues to uphold the overall interests of China-U.S. relations, and peace and stability across the straits.”