EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis laid out plans for a less controversial, more open dialogue with the Chinese leaders when he travels to Asia, less than a month after he beat Beijing at an international conference for the militarization of the islands in the South china Sea.
Speaking to reporters on his plane Sunday on the way to a stop in Alaska, Mattis avoided some of the sharp criticism from China, which he had made recently. Instead, he insisted that he is in talks with the Chinese leaders, without bias, and wants to focus on the larger, more strategic issues.
According to officials, a major topic of the discussions later this week will be the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the role China can play, given its longstanding friendship with North Korea.
“I want to go in without actually poisoning the well at this point. I go there to have a conversation,” said Mattis. “I do not want to directly with a certain pre-set expectation of what they are going to say. I want to go and do a lot of listening.”
Mattis’ more diplomatic tack reflects the U.S. government’s recognition of China’s crucial influence on Korea as the negotiations move forward to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.
A senior AMERICAN official said that while Mattis like the layout of America’s position on China’ s military buildup in the South china Sea and other issues, the Pentagon chief does not want to open the conversations with “the irritants.” Instead, the goal is to have a higher quality talks about the two countries ‘ military relationship, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations on the trip.
Last month, however, Mattis abruptly disinvited China from a multinational exercise in the Pacific ocean that will begin in a few days, in retaliation for Beijing putting weapon systems on artificial islands in the South china Sea. And days later he publicly threatened to “much larger consequences in the future” if the militarization continues.
China has recently deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, electronic jammers, and other equipment to the Spratly Islands, and landed a bomber in a Wooded Island. China says it is within its rights to build defenses on islands in the South china Sea, which it considers its territory.
Many countries fear that Beijing will use the construction on the islands for the expansion of its military reach and possible, try to restrict navigation in the South china Sea.
It is certainly the Chinese will increase problems with Mattis, as well as Beijing’s long-held opposition to the increasing U.S. contacts with Taiwan. China claims the self-ruled island as its territory.
For the U.S., but North Korea will be a primary topic in the talks with the senior Chinese leaders. And while the U.S. would like to see China use its influence to reinfore the denuclearization negotiations with North Korea, it also wants Beijing to continue to strive for the enforcement of the sanctions against the North, as part of the press campaign.
Also China is probably glad that the U.S. has suspended any major military exercises with South Korea as part of the nuclear negotiations.
Mattis said Sunday that the Pentagon canceled two Naval military exchanges, as well as the larger Ulchi Freedom Guardian in the exercise of this autumn, because the ministry of defence considered in conjunction with what President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un had agreed on the top about two weeks ago.
The US has also long been frustrated that China is not a lot of information about each war scenarios or other contingencies that in the event of a conflict on the Korean peninsula, or the collapse of the North Korean government.
By improving the relationship with Beijing, Washington believes that it can better prepare for any problems and be able to coordinate more effectively with China.
This is Mattis’ first trip to China, both personally and as minister of defence. He said that he was in Hong Kong a number of times. The last Pentagon chief to visit China was Chuck Hagel in April 2014.
But both Mattis and his immediate predecessor, Ash Carter, have a great deal of time in Asia, in the wake of the highly acclaimed AMERICAN greater emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region. Mattis has traveled to Asia seven times during his 17-month tenure as minister of defence, and this is his third visit this year.
During his stop in Alaska, Mattis brings a visit to an important element of America’s missile defense system at Fort Greely, the strategic missile interceptors. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, flew with Mattis of Washington and is expected to go to Fort Greely with him.
The Pentagon budget calls for an increase of the number of interceptors from 44 to 64 years of age, that extra 20 will be located on Fort Greely. Critics question the reliability of the interceptors, with the argument that the years of testing yet to prove that they are sufficiently effective against a sophisticated threat.
In addition, Mattis will travel to South Korea and Japan for a meeting with his defence counterparts as well as other national leaders.