US defence chief Jim Mattis to head to China amid Taiwan, South China Sea turmoil
Trip comes just weeks after Mattis takes aim at Beijing over military build-up in contested waters
US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis will visit China next week as tensions rise between the two countries over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Mattis said on Wednesday that he would visit Beijing and then Seoul next week, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan confirmed that Mattis was “travelling to the region next week”, adding that details of the trip would be released on Friday.
Military ties between the United States and China have worsened in the last month, with Washington disinviting Beijing from the multinational Rimpac military exercise in Hawaii in a response to China’s military build-up in the South China Sea.
The Pentagon is also reportedly considering sending warships through the Taiwan Strait and increasing arms sales to Taiwan after Chinese military aircraft, including the H-6K strategic bomber, conducted exercises around the self-ruled island.
The tensions between the two countries came to the surface that at the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore early this month, when Mattis criticised Beijing for its activities in the disputed waters, including its vast territorial claims and deployment of weapons systems that he said were designed for “intimidation and coercion”.
On the sidelines of the forum, Senior Colonel Zhou Bo, director of the Central Military Commission’s Centre for Security Cooperation, said Mattis’ remarks were ridiculous and the US, not China, was militarising the South China Sea.
Zhou said China’s land reclamation in the waters was not prohibited by any international law and the US was the main factor contributing to instability in the region.
Mattis also pledged the US’ continued commitment to Taiwan, saying Washington would supply Taiwan with “the defence articles and services necessary to maintain sufficient self-defence”.
Beijing regards the self-ruled island as a wayward province, to be brought under its rule by force if necessary.
“We oppose all unilateral efforts to alter the status quo, and will continue to insist any resolution of differences accord with the will of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait,” Mattis said.
But Mattis also said “the US will continue to pursue a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, cooperation whenever possible will be the name of the game”.