How Mattis is trying to keep U.S.-China tensions from boiling over

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When the United States imposed sanctions on China’s military this fall, China retaliated by cancelling Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ plans to meet his counterpart in Beijing. But just days later, a Chinese general visited the Pentagon with a reassuring message: Beijing valued the importance of military ties between the two countries.

 

In the previously unreported visit, Huang Xueping arrived on Oct. 10 to see Mattis’ aides, but the secretary briefly met him in the hallway with a message for Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe. The two were still going to be at a security conference in Singapore later in October, and Mattis told Huang he looked forward to meeting Wei there, said Randall Schriver, the Pentagon’s top Asia policy official.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have plumbed new depths under President Donald Trump amid a bitter trade war and disagreements over Taiwan, the South China Sea, and other geopolitical flashpoints.

 Worried that weak ties between major militaries can lead to misunderstandings that snowball into conflict amid tense relations, U.S. officials said Mattis is attempting to forge a relationship with Chinese military leaders.

He appears to be getting traction. On Friday, he is set to hold a third meeting with Wei in less than five months, an unusual intensity of top-level contact. Mattis’ trip to China in June was the first by a U.S. defense secretary since 2014.

 Schriver said U.S.-China talks in Washington on Friday will include “risk reduction” efforts that the two countries can undertake, which aim to drive down the chance of an inadvertent clash.

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