In another backward step between the United States and China, a meeting between some of the two nations’ top officials has been cancelled.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was expected to meet his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Wei Fenghe, for security talks this month, however, a senior U.S. defense official told Reuters late Sunday that the meeting was off.
The official was unsure if the cancellation was caused by recent disputes, or if the meeting would be rescheduled. “The tension is escalating, and that could prove to be dangerous to both sides,” the official said.
NEW: Reuters: China has canceled a security meeting w/ US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that had been planned for October, a senior US official said Sunday, days after a top Chinese official said there was no reason to panic over tensions b/t the countries. https://t.co/zhEgtJ94oT
— Evan Rosenfeld (@Evan_Rosenfeld) October 1, 2018
China reportedly said Fenghe was unavailable for the meeting, which caused the U.S. to call off the meeting entirely. Neither Chinese nor U.S. officials would provide an official statement.
The meeting was not formally announced by the Pentagon in the first place due to standard security concerns, but it was known that the talks were in the development. Last year, the two held diplomatic and security talks for the first time in June, and they vowed to make it an annual recurrence.
The decision comes increasingly high tensions between the two nations, especially after developments over the past two weeks.
On Sunday, a Chinese warship came within 45 yards of U.S. Navy ship, USS Decatur, during an ‘unsafe’ encounter in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, which China claims as their territory.
The USS Decatur was carrying out an operation to ensure free passage in international waters when the Chinese destroyer “approached in an unsafe and unprofessional manner” then “conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for the Decatur to depart the area,” according to U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesperson, Capt. Charles Brown.
Last week, China was angered by the routine operation of two U.S. B-52 bombers over the South China Sea, which China’s Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang called a “provocative action.”
“There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it, nor about our ship sailing through there,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters outside the Pentagon. “I’ve noticed that other nations have also incurred certain diplomatic wrath out of Beijing for sailing their ships through. It’s international waters, folks.”
Relations have been souring before the latest incidents with the ongoing trade war. President Trump imposed tariffs on China, asserting that they were “ripping us off for so many years,” though he welcomes talks to develop a fair trade agreement.
China responded with their own retaliatory tariffs, but have scoffed at the potential for trade talks. “How could you negotiate with someone when he puts a knife on your neck?” China’s deputy trade negotiator Wang Shouwen said, according to CNN.
President Trump said at a press conference last week that Chinese President Xi Jinping “may not be a friend of mine anymore. But I think he probably respects me.”
Last week, a top Chinese diplomat, Wang Yi, said tensions between the two nations was “no cause for panic.”