China’s Defense Ministry said this week that U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis might be visiting the country in the coming months.
Reuters reported that China is currently coordinating with the U.S. on a possible trip, which would be the first time Mattis has visited China under President Donald Trump’s Administration.
“As for the visit of Defense Secretary Mattis to China, defense departments in both countries are currently coordinating on this,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said, according to Reuters.
“At the same time, other exchange programs between the two countries’ militaries are also being pushed forward in a smooth manner in accordance with plans,” he added.
While Guoqiang did not have any further information on plans for the meeting, Reuters reported that he did state China would be sending a working group to the U.S. early next month to discuss its participation.
Mattis has traveled to many other Asian countries as Defense Secretary, including Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. He also touted his recent trip to the Middle East as “successful” in building unity. Now Mattis seems to have his eye on Beijing during a time in which tensions between China and the U.S. are particularly high.
President Trump during much of his campaign pushed an anti-China sentiment but has made an about-face in recent months, with a coordinated effort with China to increase pressure on North Korea. However, the President’s recent implementation of tariffs on Chinese goods have once again put a strain on Chinese-U.S. relations.
Rumors of Mattis’ possible visit also come just days after Beijing fiercely objected to the U.S.’ freedom of navigation patrol near one of its artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea.
The U.S. regularly patrols international waters in the Asia Pacific, much to the dismay of Beijing. China currently has countless territorial disputes with various nations in the region, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia. The regular patrols often cause tensions to rise and have influenced China to increase its military presence in the area.
On Friday, Mattis arrived in Singapore, his second visit to the region, to attend a key defense summit and to deliver a policy speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue this weekend.
“I will emphasise the United States stands with our Asia-Pacific allies and partners,” Mattis told reporters travelling with him, “reinforcing the international order necessary to secure a peaceful, prosperous and free Asia with respect for all nations upholding international law.”