U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ first visit to China will help ease tensions, promote mutual trust and facilitate healthy interactions and relations between the two militaries, experts said.
Chinese military officials will also take this chance to directly communicate China’s stance of resolutely safeguarding its national sovereignty, territorial integrity and other core interests to the top U.S. defense official, the experts added.
Mattis is having a three-day visit in China from yesterday to tomorrow. He will meet with State and military leaders to discuss issues of common concern, Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for Ministry of National Defense, said Monday.
It is the first visit to China of a U.S. defense secretary since Chuck Hagel in April 2014. Mattis will also visit the Republic of Korea and Japan after his trip to China.
Developing healthy and stable Sino-U.S. military-to-military relations is in line with the mutual interest of both countries and the common aspirations of the international community, Ren said.
China values developing military relations with the U.S., and hopes the U.S. works with China to turn the military relationship into a stabilizing factor for the countries’ overall relations, he added.
While Mattis’ trip to China was part of the bilateral consensus reached last year, his visit came amid recently escalating security tensions between the two over the South China Sea and Taiwan.
On May 23, the Pentagon disinvited China from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific naval exercise as part of its criticism of China’s military buildup in the South China Sea.
The U.S. is also helping Taiwan bolster its defense capability. One week ago, the U.S. Senate passed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, calling for joint military drills with Taiwan, despite Beijing’s strong opposition to any country having military interactions with the region.
Mattis, however, has shown an interest in less contentious dialogue with China before traveling to Asia, insisting to reporters that he will not “poison the well” before going into the talks and will focus on larger, more strategic security issues, The Associated Press reported Sunday.
Colonel Liu Lin, an associate researcher of foreign militaries at the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Science, said while some degree of competition is inevitable between China and the U.S., there is more room for cooperation than confrontation.
“Having high ranking military officials directly interact with each other will help increase strategic communication and build mutual trust, facilitating a healthy military relationship between the two countries,” she said.
Senior Colonel Zhou Bo, director of the Center for Security Cooperation under the Central Military Commission Office of International Military Cooperation, said the South China Sea, Taiwan and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be among the key topics discussed during Mattis’ visit to China, as well as bilateral military cooperation.
Although not all differences can be managed overnight, “the gesture of his coming to China is already a positive sign for Sino-U.S. military relations,” he said.