China-US relations

China won’t concede an inch, Xi Jinping tells US defence chief Jim Mattis on South China Sea and Taiwan

Chinese president stands firm over disputed waters while advocating stronger inter-military relations to ‘lower scepticism and prevent misunderstanding’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 9:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 June, 2018, 12:02am

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told visiting US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis that China will make no concession on its core interests, despite calling for stronger ties between the countries’ militaries.

“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 said to Mattis on Wednesday in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Mattis’ visit comes at a time of sharp US criticism of China’s militarisation of islands in the South China Sea and tensions over Taiwan, and a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

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China claims most of the South China Sea, and has begun to militarise outposts in the disputed waters, which the US regards as an attempt to control the world’s busiest trade route. As a result, the US navy has been conducting freedom-of-navigation operations to challenge China.

Meanwhile, Beijing is angered by the recent upgrade of US military engagement and its promises to arm Taiwan, which it sees as a breakaway province to be reunited by force if necessary.

The National Defence Authorisation Act for 2019, recently passed by the US Senate, encouraged the US military to participate in exercises with the Taiwanese military, and the Pentagon is also reportedly considering sending warships through the Taiwan Strait and increasing arms sales to Taiwan.

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Xi, also the chairman of the Central Military Commission, said he hoped the Chinese and US militaries could increase their communications and mutual trust, to deepen cooperation and manage risk, and make the military-to-military ties a stabiliser in the bilateral relationship.

“Strengthening inter-military exchanges on all levels should help lower scepticism and prevent misunderstanding, misjudgment or incidents,” he said.

The comments come after the Pentagon’s cancellation of the invitation for China to the US-led international military exercise Rim of the Pacific that begins today.

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Mattis said the US assigned a high degree of importance to the China-US military-to-military relationship and that the US would like to manage difference and risks, avoid conflicts and make inter-military relations a constructive factor in bilateral relations.

“This is an important time in the history of China and the United States, as we work our relationship forward,” he said.

Mattis has previously said the US would “compete vigorously” with China in the South China Sea, accusing Beijing of militarising the disputed waters in a manner of “intimidation and coercion”.

Xi told Mattis that China would stick to the path of peaceful development “without seeking expansion and colonialisation, nor causing chaos to the world”.

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Earlier on Wednesday, Mattis met his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe and had a “very open and honest dialogue”, Mattis said.

Wei said the Chinese military would “firmly defend national sovereignty, security and developmental interest”.

The two defence ministers also discussed topics including Taiwan, the South China Sea and denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

This is the first trip to China by a US defence chief since 2014. Mattis will head to South Korea on Thursday.