By Yang Sheng Source:Global Times
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ visit to China this week is an attempt to rebuild communication channels between the two countries’ militaries and an opportunity to discuss future security arrangements on the Korean Peninsula, while navigating around rocky bilateral ties caused by South China Sea and Taiwan questions, analysts said on Monday.
At the invitation of Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe, Mattis will visit China from Tuesday to Thursday, Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense, said on Monday.
Chinese State and military leaders will meet with Mattis and the two sides will exchange views on the two countries’ relations, their militaries and other issues of common concern, Ren said.
This will be the first visit of a US Secretary of Defense to China since 2014, the official website of US Department of Defense said.
Wang Yunfei, a Beijing-based military expert and a retired officer of the Chinese navy, told the Global Times on Monday that “Mattis’ visit comes at a time when China-US security ties are facing problems.”
Wang said that many military communication channels between the two countries have been suspended since the US withdrew its invitation to China to attend a US-hosted naval drill, and launched a series of provocations on China’s legitimate activities in the South China Sea.
The Pentagon disinvited China from participating in the Rim of the Pacific exercise (RIMPAC) on May 23, in response to the alleged “militarization of islands in the South China Sea,” Reuters reported.
The Chinese Ministry of National Defense said at the time that the US’ move would close the door on promoting mutual trust and cooperation.
RIMPAC is billed as the world’s largest international maritime exercise and is held every two years in waters near Hawaii in June and July.
China participated in the previous two RIMPAC exercises in 2014 and 2016.
“The People’s Liberation Army and the US armed forces had intended to establish hotlines between theater commands and combat units, but the process was suspended after the US rescinded its invitation to RIMPAC. Mattis may seek to rebuild these channels with China during his visit,” Wang noted.
China and the US need to maintain effective military communications to reduce friction and miscalculations, and to prevent damaging regional stability and world peace, Wang said.
“Mattis may also express US concerns on South China Sea issues and might ask China to reduce or slow island constructions in the region. But the South China Sea is China’s territory and the US must stop its provocations,” Wang remarked.
Mattis criticized China on South China Sea issues when he attended the Shangri-La dialogue held in Singapore on June 2, Reuters reported.
The Taiwan question may also be a key topic for Mattis, especially after the US Congress passed the “National Defense Authorization Act,” which authorized the US to conduct high-level personnel exchanges with Taiwan and to potentially send its warships to visit the island, Wang said.
The future of the peninsula
China is not the only destination ofMattis’ Asia trip. After his visit to China, he will travel to Seoul, South Korea. He will conclude his trip Friday in Tokyo, Japan, said the US Department of Defense.
“The Korean Peninsula will also be a key issue during Mattis’ trip. After the summit in Singapore, the US and North Korea are moving toward détente after the US agreed to stop its war games with South Korea. Future regional security arrangements will be extremely crucial,” said Diao Daming, an American studies expert and an associate professor at the Renmin University of China,.
Although China and the US have differences on many issues, the peninsula is the key issue that requires both countries’ cooperation, Diao said.
“Stopping military exercises is just a first step. With détente between the US and North Korea, the US might need to make additional moves to realize its ‘security assurance’ promise to Pyongyang. The US has to talk with China, because it knows China cannot be excluded,” Wang noted.
“China might raise the withdraw of the THAAD [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense] system from South Korea, and the US might ask China to reduce or cancel its military reconnaissance of the US and South Korea,” Wang said.
Newspaper headline: Mattis visits amid tensions