US Defense Secretary to take friendly tone in security talks with China

World Today

US Defense Secretary James Mattis aboard his official aircraft on the first leg of a trip which will take him to China, South Korea and Japan, June 24, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Paul HANDLEY)

The U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is adopting a less confrontational tone as he arrives in Beijing. It’s his first visit to China as Pentagon chief. Mattis said ready for a “conversation” with China, and indicated an open mind.

The discussions come after the U.S. withdrew an invitation for China to participate in naval exercises in the Pacific, stepped up patrols in the South China Sea and indicated it may start exercises with Taiwan.

CGTN’s Nathan King reports from Washington. 

Last month, Mattis criticized China’s military behavior in the South China Sea. Shortly afterwards, the U.S. flew B-52 strategic bombers over contested waters and stepped up so called freedom of navigation operations. This followed the dis-inviting of China to the Rim of the Pacific exercises: the world’s largest naval maneuvers.

Chinese officials have warned that any stepped-up engagement with Taiwan would be a “red line.” Amid rising tensions, it’s perhaps no surprise that James Mattis is talking softly while carrying a big stick.

The visit also comes at a critical time for diplomacy over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program. The Singapore summit was big on promises and short on details for denuclearization. Washington will need Beijing’s help in the weeks and months to come.

China has welcomed the decision to postpone joint U.S. military exercises with South Korea to give diplomacy a chance to work. However, China will be looking for assurances that the U.S. is not taking sides in the South China Sea disputes. Beijing will also make sure Washington is not violating the longstanding ‘one China policy’ by increasing defensive ties with Taiwan.

This will also be the first visit to Beijing by a U.S. Secretary of Defense since the U.S. officially labelled China an adversary, along with Russia.

Mattis will visit allies South Korea and Japan before returning to Washington.