Xi to Mattis: China won’t give up ‘any inch of territory’ in Pacific

Mattis meeting President Xi yesterday. Picture by James N Mattis, via the US Department of Defense website

China will not give up “any inch of territory” in the Pacific, President Xi Jinping told US Defense Secretary James Mattis during a visit to Beijing.

According to a report in the state-run Xinhua today (Thursday, June 28), Xi said: “Our stance is steadfast and clear-cut when it comes to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Any inch of territory passed down from ancestors can not be lost while we want nothing from others.”

Mattis’ meeting with Xi yesterday comes as relations between Washington and Beijing have recently been marred by issues including the looming trade war.

He is the first Pentagon chief to visit China since 2014, and also held meetings with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe and other top generals.

Before departing on his trip to Asia on Sunday, Mattis said he hoped to establish a “transparent strategic dialogue” with his Chinese counterparts.

“Going forward, we obviously at the actions of China, but I am going there to do a lot of listening and identification of common ground and uncommon ground on the strategic level at this time,” he said.

“I did not want to immediately go in with a certain preset expectation of what they are going to say. I want to go in and do a lot of listening. I will be very clear about what we see developing, but that’s the whole reason I am making the trip instead of just sitting in Washington reading news reports, intelligence reports or analyst reports.”

Xi told Mattis that despite disagreements over the South China Sea, “it has long been known that the real experts on military affairs do not want to employ military means to solve issues”.

China has welcomed President Trump’s decision to suspend US-South Korean military exercises after his talks with ’s Kim Jong Un — but other US actions in the region have angered Beijing.

In particular, China objected after Mattis stressed that the US Navy would continue a “steady drumbeat” of exercises to challenge China’s expansive territorial claims over the South China Sea.

Then, last month, the Pentagon withdrew an invitation for China to take part in an annual multinational military drill, known as RimPac, which officially kicks off this week. This decision was blamed on Beijing’s militarisation of its man-made islands in the South China Sea.

Another bone of contention is Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of its territory. Despite protests from China, the US continues to sell arms to the island.

Addressing Mattis’ trip during a press briefing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said it was “natural that China and the US have differences in different times and aspects as two big countries”.

“The key part is solving the issues between the US and China with mutual respect. We have always believed that the bilateral relationship can benefit both countries and both peoples,” he added.

Following his Beijing visit, Mattis will travel to Seoul, where he will meet with South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo.

Mattis said discussions would focus on the “way ahead” with the goal of North Korean denuclearisation and other issues of cooperation between US and South Korean militaries.

He will also meet with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo, where the conversation will include Japanese concerns about North Korean missiles.