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Mattis arrives in China, first Defense Sec. to visit in four years

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), a majority member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, hold a joint press conference before departing Fairbanks, Alaska, June 24, 2018. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
June 26, 2018

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Bejing on Tuesday, marking the first visit to China by a U.S. Defense Secretary in four years.

The trip takes place amid growing tensions between the U.S. and China due to issues ranging from trade to China’s military coercion of Taiwan.

Mattis is expected to urge China’s military leadership for continued cooperation on the denuclearization of North Korea. He stated his intent is to “have a conversation.”

“I want to go in right now without basically poisoning the well at this point,” he told reporters. “I want to go in and do a lot of listening.”

The Trump Administration needs the cooperation of Chinese President Xi Jinping to engage North Korea in disarmament discussions.

Last week, Jinping hosted Kim Jong Un in Beijing to convey China’s strong influence as North Korea’s top trading partner and military ally. The trip was Kim’s third to China since March.

Before Mattis’ visit, Chinese state media said that dialogue was needed to prevent disputes from escalating.

An editorial in the China Daily on Monday stated: “Although it is natural for big countries such as China and the U.S. to have areas of competition, the two should have the wisdom and the political will to control their rivalry, so that the worst-case scenario of a full-blown confrontation between them can be avoided.”

On Sunday, Mattis embarked on a six-day visit to Asia, including visits to Alaska, China, South Korea and Japan.

Mattis told reporters aboard Air Force E-4B en route to Alaska that “I’ll be very clear on what we see developing,” in regards to U.S. concerns of China’s militarization in the disputed South China Sea, according to The Washington Times.

“But that’s the whole reason I’m making the trip, instead of just sitting in Washington and reading news reports, intelligence reports or analysts’ reports,” he added.

Mattis said that he wants to learn China’s vision for a strategic partnership, and he will approach the talks with an open mind for open dialogue.

Mattis’ trip is one of several diplomatic visits held since the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore earlier this month.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Bejing to brief Chinese leaders just days after the summit.

Mattis is expected to address China’s substantial militarization of approximately 3,200 acres of new islands in the disputed South China Sea.

At a Sept. 2015 summit with then-President Barack Obama, Jinping pledged not to militarize the islands. The islands are claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and several other countries in the region.

He may also discuss China’s military action toward Taiwan, an ally of the U.S. that China deems a “wayward province.” Mattis criticized China for “intimidation and coercion” toward Taiwan.

The Trump Administration has criticized China for unfair trade and economic policies. The Pentagon also released a report in January that identified China and Russia as strategic military threats.