Mattis Cancels China Trip As Trade Tensions Spill Over Into Military Arena

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis listens to a question during a news conference at Camp Lemonnier in Ambouli, Djibouti April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pool/Getty Images Europe

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has dropped plans to visit China amid rising tensions between Beijing and Washington, U.S. defense officials said Monday.

Although the trip was never publicly announced, Mattis had planned to visit Beijing in October for so-called 2-plus-2 security talks with his Chinese counterpart as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Pompeo’s counterpart.

The Pentagon has made no public statement about Mattis’ change of plans. Defense officials confirmed news reports of the meeting cancellation, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.

Deterioration in U.S.-Chinese relations has been most visible in recent trade disputes between the two countries, but the tension has spilled over into the military arena. China, for example, has refused a request for a U.S. warship to make a port call at Hong Kong in October, and it has strongly protested U.S. plans to sell additional military equipment to Taiwan, the self-governed island that China considers its territory.

Also last week, China cancelled plans for its naval chief to visit the Pentagon.

Last Friday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that his country’s relationship with the United States could break “like a glass,” and he used the U.N. General Assembly to declare China would not be bullied by the Trump administration.

A central source of tension in the U.S.-China military relationship in recent years has been the South China Sea, where five governments claim territory in the oil- and gas-rich area. China has sought to strengthen its claim to the South China Sea by building seven islands on reefs and equipping them with military facilities such as airstrips, radar domes and missile systems.

In May, Mattis disinvited China from participating in a multinational naval exercise in the Pacific. Pentagon officials cited China’s military buildup on disputed South China Sea islands. In June, Mattis made his first visit to China as Pentagon chief.

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