Jim Mattis, Meeting His Chinese Counterpart, Tries to Ease Tensions

SINGAPORE — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis tried to lower the temperature on the array of hostilities between Washington and Beijing on Thursday, saying it is up to the militaries of the two competing global superpowers to act as a stabilizing force amid rising political tensions.

During an hour-and-a-half meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Mr. Mattis sanded down some of the sharp edges from Vice President Mike Pence’s pointed critique of China this month. Mr. Mattis urged the two militaries to talk through their many differences and even repeated an invitation for Wei Fenghe, China’s defense minister, to visit the United States, according to a senior Defense Department official who was in the meeting.

But the cordial tone belied deep tensions that showed no signs of abating on Thursday. China, as it usually does, brushed off Mr. Mattis’s complaints about Beijing’s continued militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, other countries present at a meeting in Singapore of Southeast Asian nations continued to resist American entreaties to add their voices to the American challenge of China’s claims in the disputed area. And two of those countries — Malaysia and Thailand — even prepared for a joint naval exercise with China that American officials worry is part of a larger effort by Beijing to peel away American allies.

Mr. Mattis, for his part, was hampered by the continued fallout and speculation from President Trump having questioned on Sunday whether the defense chief would remain on the job, calling Mr. Mattis “sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” during in interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes. ” Mr. Mattis later told reporters that Mr. Trump had called him to reassure him that he was “100 percent” behind the defense secretary, but in Asia there has been speculation about how long Mr. Mattis will be around.

The Mattis-Wei meeting comes as the United States and China continue to lurch from one crisis to the next. President Trump accused China last month of meddling in the American midterm elections, an accusation Beijing rejected.

Mr. Pence’s Oct. 4 speech has been widely viewed as foreshadowing a new Cold War between the United States and China, and with the exception of Mr. Mattis, the Trump administration has only turned up the volume since.

On Wednesday the White House said it planned to withdraw from a 144-year old postal treaty that has allowed Chinese companies to ship small packages to the United States at a discounted rate, part of a concerted push by Mr. Trump to counter China’s dominance and punish it for what the administration says is a pattern of unfair trade practices.

The military relationship that Mr. Mattis is pushing as an island of stability is also taking hits. Mr. Mattis was supposed to begin his trip to Asia this week with a stop in Beijing for talks with Mr. Wei, but China canceled the visit, citing annoyance over sanctions Mr. Trump imposed on a Chinese state military company for buying weapons from Russia, and Washington’s plans to sell $330 million in military equipment to Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims as its own.

The biggest source of tension between the Pentagon and Beijing continues to be the South China Sea. China claims almost all the South China Sea, and strongly protests American military patrols there. The United States, for its part, considers the sea to be international waters and sends bombers and warships through every so often to make that point.

During his talk with Mr. Wei, Mr. Mattis introduced a new dynamic into the standard talking points over the South China Sea issue, according to Randall G. Schriver, the Pentagon’s top official for Asia and the Pacific, who was in the meeting. Mr. Mattis sought to convey what he said were concerns of other Asia-Pacific countries over Chinese claims on the South China Sea.

“He talked about the reactions that he hears from other countries and their concern and confusion over China’s actions not necessarily matching their words,” Mr. Schriver said.

American officials have recently started complaining privately that the United States does the bulk of the naval work when it comes to overtly challenging China in the South China Sea, with numerous so-called Freedom of Navigation trips, during which American warships sail within 12 miles of the disputed islands.

China always objects to the trips — last month a Chinese warship came within 45 yards of an American naval destroyer Decatur, as it conducted a Freedom of Navigation operation in the South China Sea. The Pentagon characterized the maneuver as unsafe and unprofessional.

“When the Chinese ships are putting bumpers over the side,” Mr. Mattis told reporters on the plane at the beginning of his Asia trip, “You don’t do that when you’re out in the middle of the ocean, unless you’re intending to run into something.”

He vowed that American ships would continue to traverse what the United States views as international waters.

But it is one thing for an American warship to challenge a Chinese one; it is a far bigger challenge for a smaller navy to do so. Britain conducted a freedom of navigation operation in August — China complained about that too — but China’s smaller Asian neighbors have been loathe to follow suit.

During the meeting, Mr. Mattis brought up the other countries.

“I think his point was that in some instances, other countries may not have the confidence, given China’s strength, to always speak up,” Mr. Schriver told reporters after the meeting. “But he wanted to let minister Wei know that he hears about it a great deal from other countries.”

Mr. Schriver acknowledged though, that for individual countries, “it’s sovereign decisions on how they approach China bilaterally.”

Source link

more recommended stories

  • Supreme Court Blocks Two Rulings Striking Down Voting Maps

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on.

  • Barr Got More Power to Review the Russia Inquiry. Here’s What We Know About Its Origins.

    WASHINGTON — President Trump has given.

  • Edited Pelosi Video vs. the Original: A Side-by-Side Comparison – Video

    Channels & Shows Home Search U.S..

  • Jay Inslee Is Running on Climate Change. The Issue Is Catching On, So Why Isn’t He?

    RAYMOND, N.H. — For years, climate.

  • News Quiz: Test Your Knowledge of the Week’s Headlines

    Did you stay up to date.

  • On Politics: The Trade War Is Here to Stay

    Good Friday morning. Here are some.

  • Hope Hicks Left the White House. Now She Must Decide Whether to Talk to Congress.

    A White House spokesman did not.

  • 2020 Democrats Join McDonald’s Workers Striking Over Wages and Harassment

    As McDonald’s held its annual shareholder.

  • Sanders’s Education Plan Renews Debate Over Charter Schools and Segregation

    When Senator Bernie Sanders delivered a.

  • Trump Administration to Announce Farm Aid to Ease Pain of Trade War

    He reached out to Canadian and.

  • Pentagon to Build Temporary Shelter for 7,500 Migrant Adults Facing Deportation

    WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said on.

  • On Politics: Trump Blows Up Meeting With Democrats

    • New York State lawmakers approved.

  • U.S. Yet to Find Evidence of New Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria

    WASHINGTON — The United States has.

  • Michael Avenatti Is Charged With Stealing Nearly $300,000 From Stormy Daniels

    Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged the.

  • Trump’s Battles: Today’s State of Play

    congress and the presidency As Democrats.

  • Gillibrand Proposes Huge Investments in Maternal Health, Child Care and Education

    Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s presidential campaign on.

  • On Politics: Trump May Impose Limits on Chinese Maker of Surveillance Tech

    Good Wednesday morning. Here are some.

  • Anita Hill Worries Female 2020 Candidates Are ‘Not Being Taken Seriously’

    Mr. Biden spoke with Ms. Hill.

  • U.S. Says Syria’s President May Be Using Chemical Weapons Again

    WASHINGTON — The State Department said.

  • Kentucky Has a Primary Election Today. Here’s What to Watch.

    Voters in Kentucky are choosing their.

  • ‘Our Subpoenas Are Not Optional,’ Nadler Warns McGahn – Video

    By REUTERS | May. 21, 2019.

  • As McGahn Prepares to Defy Subpoena, Democrats’ Anger Swells

    WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee.

  • Lawmakers Break Ramadan Fast on Capitol Hill

    WASHINGTON — As the House’s day.

  • Fox News Welcomes Pete Buttigieg. Trump and ‘Fox & Friends’ Aren’t Pleased.

    Mr. Hume added, “Oh, and covering.

  • Impeachment Appeal Pushes Justin Amash From G.O.P. Gadfly to Insurgent

    Calls to the congressman’s cellphone and.

  • Student Debt Facts: The Average College Senior Owes $29,000

    On Sunday, Robert F. Smith, a.

  • Google Restricts Huawei’s Access to Android After Trump Order

    LONDON — The Chinese technology giant.

  • Google Restricts Huawei’s Access to Android After Trump Order

    LONDON — The Chinese technology giant.

  • On Politics: Trump and Kushner Raised Flags at Deutsche Bank

    • In an analysis, Peter Baker.

  • Social Media Pollution, a Huge Problem in the Last Election, Could Be Worse in 2020

    It’s unlikely you have heard of.

  • Trump and the Four-Letter Presidency

    He has either coarsened the public.

  • Trump to Open Middle East Peace Drive With Economic Conference

    WASHINGTON — The White House announced.