U.S. ties with China not worsening, despite bumps, scrapped visit, say Mattis

U.S. ties with China not worsening, despite bumps, scrapped visit, say Mattis

The Associated Press

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in early October 2018 that he doesn’t see the U.S. relationship with China worsening despite reports that his tentative plans to visit the country later in October appear to be canceled.

Mattis said the U.S. needs to learn how to manage its relationship with the communist nation.

“There’s tension points in the relationship but based on discussions coming out of New York last week and other things that we have coming up, we do not see it getting worse,” Mattis, pictured, told reporters traveling with him to Paris. “We’ll sort this out.”

U.S. defense officials said that Mattis has dropped plans to visit China amid rising tensions between Beijing and Washington. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.

Although the trip was never publicly announced, Mattis had planned to visit Beijing in October for security talks with his Chinese counterpart as well as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pompeo’s counterpart.

The Pentagon has made no public statement about Mattis’ change of plans.

Relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have deteriorated, as escalating trade disputes and tariff hikes have been exacerbated by a newly announced U.S. military equipment sale to Taiwan and some recent military operations. In past years, military ties have been somewhat stable but a series of events this year have roiled the waters.

In late September 2018, Beijing canceled a Washington visit by the head of its navy and denied a request for a U.S. Navy ship to make a port visit next month at Hong Kong.

The PRC also protested a recent mission by nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bombers over the disputed South China Sea, calling the flights “provocative.” A day before Mattis’ remarks, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Decatur sailed close to Chinese-claimed islands in the South China Sea.

Such freedom-of-navigation operations have been somewhat routine near man-made reefs and islands that the PRC has militarized in the South China Sea. But Beijing vehemently objects to U.S. ships sailing within 12 nautical miles  of the outposts.

The PRC’s military buildup in the waterway, which has included placing airstrips, radar domes, missile systems and other military equipment on the islets, prompted Mattis in May 2018 to disinvite Beijing from participating in a multinational naval exercise in the Pacific.

At the center of the tensions is a growing U.S.-China trade dispute. Each country has imposed tariff increases on the other’s goods, and Beijing has accused the Trump administration of bullying.

In recent days, however, the PRC’s anger spiked when the U.S. announced a U.S. $330 million military sale to Taiwan. Beijing also opposes a U.S. decision to issue a visa ban and assets freeze on China’s Equipment Development Department and its director, Li Shangfu. The U.S. action relates to China’s purchase from Russia of Su-35 combat aircraft last year and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment this year. Those purchases violated a 2017 law intended to punish the Russian government for interfering in U.S. elections and other activities.