Mattis visits Beijing as South China Sea tensions bubble

Newsletter

Jim Mattis arrived in Beijing on June 26, becoming the first U.S. Secretary of Defense to visit China in four years. The South China Morning Post reports that he met with his counterpart, Wei Fenghe 魏凤和, with whom he had what he characterized as a “very open and honest dialogue,” and with President Xi Jinping. Xi told Mattis:

Our attitude is firm and clear in terms of Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity, that we would not lose a single inch of the lands we inherited from our ancestors, while we would not take a single penny of others’ possessions.

Xi also called for the “strengthening inter-military exchanges on all levels,” after the U.S. withdrew its invitation for China to participate in the biennial Rimpac military exercises following a confrontation in the South China Sea.

The South China Sea remains a sore spot for the U.S. and China.

  • Throughout April, China sent missiles to the Spratly Islands, a development that many Western security experts labeled “militarization.” Since then, other missiles have been removed and then put back on Woody Island, in the Paracels, another contested island chain.
  • Mattis may not have publicly criticized China’s sending of military equipment to the islands while he visited Beijing, but last month, he had decried the developments as “out of step with international law.”
  • China continues to argue that this is not militarization, with Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, writing in the Guardian that it is instead the American warships sailing through international waters that amounts to “militarization.”