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‘I’ll do a lot of listening there’: Mattis becomes 1st Pentagon chief to visit China in 4 years

‘I’ll do a lot of listening there’: Mattis becomes 1st Pentagon chief to visit China in 4 years
James Mattis is poised to make his first visit to Beijing weeks after he said the US will “vigorously compete” with China and accused America’s Asian rival of “intimidation and coercion” in the contested South China Sea area.

Defense Secretary James Mattis’ trip is scheduled for June 26-28 and comes as part of his Asian tour spanning across China, South Korea and Japan, the Pentagon said in a press release. This will be the first time a US defense chief is visiting China since 2014.

Mattis, nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’ during his military career, has launched a number of verbal attacks on China recently. This time, he chose a less combative tone while speaking of his upcoming discussions in Beijing.

"I want to go in right now without basically poisoning the well at this point. I'm going there to have a conversation," Mattis told reporters en route to a stop in Alaska, AP reports. “I do 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.”

There is little known about Mattis’ agenda, but a senior US official told AP that he will focus on improving military-to-military dialogue and will avoid opening talks with "the irritants.” Instead the Pentagon chief will lay out America’s position on the Chinese military buildup in the South China Sea.

Last month Mattis criticized China for putting weapons systems on its man-made islands and disinvited Beijing from planned multinational drills there.

Mattis accused Beijing of “intimidation and coercion” in the area, adding the US has also set its foot in the region. “Make no mistake,” he said, “America is in the Indo-Pacific to stay. This is our priority theater, our interests and the region’s are inextricably intertwined.” 

The US has for years insisted China should stick to the “freedom of navigation,” in the contested areas of South China Sea, through which an estimated $5.3 trillion worth of goods passes each year. 

At the same time, the US is frequently sailing its warships and conducting flights near the disputed areas of the South China Sea.
Beijing has repeatedly condemned the US-led maneuvers, calling them an infringement on China’s sovereignty.

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