Mattis Seeks More Resilient U.S. Ties with China’s Military

Defense Secretary James Mattis told his Chinese counterpart on Thursday that the world’s two largest economies needed to deepen high-level ties so as to navigate tension and rein in the risk of inadvertent conflict, Reuters informed.

Mattis saw firsthand last month how mounting Sino-U.S. friction can undermine military contacts when Beijing up-ended plans for him to travel to China in October to meet Defense Minister Wei Fenghe. The sudden move was retaliation for recent U.S. sanctions, one of a growing number of flashpoints in relations between Washington and Beijing that include a bitter trade war, Taiwan and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him earlier this week, Mattis acknowledged that the relationship has been difficult in recent times, AP/ABC News noted.

“We’re two large powers, or two Pacific powers, two economic powers. There’s going to be times we step on each other’s toes, so we’re going to have to find a way to productively manage our relationship. And the military relationship is to be a stabilizing force in the relations between the two countries,” he said.

As for their meeting on Thursday, Mattis and Wei made no remarks as they shook hands at the start of their talks on the sidelines of a regional security conference in Singapore. Randall Schriver, a U.S. assistant secretary of defense who helps guide Pentagon policy in Asia, said Mattis and Wei largely restated differing views on thorny security disputes but agreed on the need for durable ties, Reuters noted.

“Both acknowledged that the meeting itself was significant and that high-level communication can help. So I think it was productive in that regard,” Schriver said, adding that making military-to-military ties with China less brittle would be crucial to helping reduce the chances of a devastating conflict.

“Two nuclear-armed powers with regional, if not global, interests – we need to make sure that when we step on one another’s toes, it doesn’t escalate into something that would be catastrophic,” Schriver told reporters traveling with Mattis.

Wei has a standing invitation to visit the United States but no date was agreed for his trip, Reuters adds. Military-to-military ties have long been one of the more fragile parts of the overall U.S.-China relationship, with Beijing limiting contacts when tensions run high. That has been a source of major concern for years among U.S. officials, who fear an accidental collision or mishap could quickly escalate.

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