BEIJING, CHINA: Chinese President Xi Jinping stiffly defended his country’s claim to disputed islands in the South China Sea after US Defense Secretary James Mattis questioned the militarisation of the region in a day of meetings in Beijing Wednesday with top officials.
The two sides held firm to their stances on a hot-button issue which has added to broader tensions between the rival superpowers, but US officials said it did not undermine Mattis’s effort to rescue the fraying relationship between the two militaries.
Mattis’s talks with Xi, his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe, and politburo member Yang Jiechi found general agreement on North Korea, Afghanistan, and some other lesser issues, successfully planting the seeds for better cooperation and dialogue, including a possible visit by Wei to the Pentagon, the officials said.
Both sides avoided digging into the ongoing trade tensions, focusing instead on smaller areas where security forces might build a rapport over time, helping to avoid conflict.
Demonstrating their willingness to engage, the Chinese turned out a marching band playing the US and Chinese national anthems, and paraded troops for Mattis to review, in addition to giving the US defense chief time with the Chinese president.
“The Chinese-US relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world,” Xi said. “The common ground of the two parties far exceeds the differences.”
Overall, “the discussions were candid and positive,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White.
“Areas of disagreement were identified but not necessarily dwelled on.”