Mattis Hits South China Sea Military Buildup in Talks with Xi


Despite differences, defense secretary urges U.S.-China military exchanges to stabilize ties

BEIJING—Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping on China’s buildup of military bases on disputed islands in the South China Sea as Xi defiantly stated Beijing would not give up the newly reclaimed islands.

Randall Shriver, assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs and who took part in in the meeting between Mattis and Xi, said the Chinese leader asserted Beijing’s control over the islands and also opposed growing U.S. support for Taiwan.

On the South China Sea, Mattis voiced American concerns about China’s buildup of missiles—both anti-ship and air defense missiles—on disputed islands in the sea, which is international waters contrary to Chinese claims to sovereignty over most of the strategic waterway in Southeast Asia.

“We have a disagreement and I think the secretary was effective in saying these are long standing principles. These are widely shared. It’s not for one country to unilaterally diminish what are international rights for freedom of navigation and how to define rights on international waters,” Schriver told reporters after the meeting.

Xi, for his part, issued a statement through the official Xinhua news agency saying China will not give up an inch of territory in the sea.

“While seeing the existing common interests of China and the United States, we also do not shun the differences that exist between the two sides,” Xi said.

“Regarding the issue of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, our attitude is firm and clear. From the territory left by our ancestors, (we will not) give up even one inch.”

At the start of the meeting Xi told Mattis good relations between the two countries will benefit peace and stability and called the U.S.-China relationship one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world.