In face of rising tensions and potential conflict between the U.S. and China over trade and investments, US Secretary Defense James Mattis had a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. The president highlighted the importance of the U.S.-China relationship and stated that trade wars or possible military conflicts between the two should not jeopardize it.
James Mattis was the first person of his position to visit China since 2014, and he engaged in a three-day visit to the country that concluded with talks with Chinese Defense officials. Before starting his trip, Mattis stated that he wanted to negotiate and engage in “strategic dialogue” with the officials. He further specified the approach that he would take to the meetings, as he stated:
Going forward, we obviously look 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. 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.”
The Secretary also found himself in a complicated position before going to the meeting, as China is currently feeling mixed about the U.S.’ military actions in their region. While they completely supported the decision of stopping military drills in North Korea, they were extremely concerned over the increasing naval exercises in the area from the American military. Mattis had even more reasons to be concerned about the talks because it was him who confirmed that the exercises were not going to stop. The moves have been considered as a threat to China’s territorial claims over the South China Sea.
His department had previously excluded China from the annual RimPac multinational military drill, with the excuse of the country’s increasing militarization of its sea and installing new missile systems on its islands. Suspicions of an upcoming military attack increased as several laser attacks over U.S. aircraft have been reported over the past year. One more point of convergence is the fact that the U.S. has recently allowed for its weapon manufacturers to sell their products to Taiwan, who is self-governed. The decision reportedly angered officials all over Beijing.
The trip has started shortly after the U.S. has announced that it will restrain Chinese investment in U.S. companies that handle “significant technology”, such as robotics and transportation. If they were to follow through with the measure, this would be one of the most extreme and rare procedures in American law and one that is usually not even discussed as a possibility.
However, the White House is planning to frame Chinese investors as potential threats to national security, which could be considered a fair excuse for such a measure to be taken. The restraints would be paired with the planned tariffs on Chinese products that the U.S. will soon apply. This entire procedure was caused, according to the Trump administration, by China’s unfair trade practices and requirement from U.S. companies in their country to hand in technology. The White House itself seems to be conflicted on the approach with which the latest measure will be handled, as some say that it will apply for all countries that try to purchase said technology and others, such as the president himself, have mentioned that China will be directly targeted in the restraint.
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