China won’t give up any inch of territory: Xi tells Mattis

Beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping told visiting US Defence Secretary James Mattis that Beijing is committed to peace but will not give up “any inch of territory” in the Pacific Ocean, media reports said on Thursday.

“Our stance is steadfast and clear-cut when it comes to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” CNN quoted Xi as saying after his meeting with Mattis on Wednesday at the Great Hall of the People here.

“We cannot lose even one inch of the territory left behind by our ancestors… What is other people’s we do not want at all.”

Xi also said that despite disagreements in the Pacific 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”.

Mattis however, said his talks with Xi and other officials on Wednesday had been “very, very” good, adding that the US was assigning a “high degree of importance to the military relationship” with China.

His meeting with Xi comes as relations between Washington and Beijing have been marred recently by rising tensions — not only by an impending trade war but also by both militaries viewing each other with increasing suspicion and alarm.

Mattis is the first Pentagon chief to visit China since 2014.

Addressing Mattis’ trip in light of ongoing tensions in the region during a press briefing on Wednesday evening, 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 South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo. He will also meet with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo.

China has welcomed President Donald Trump’s decision to halt large-scale US-South Korean joint military drills after his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — but the Pentagon’s other moves in the region have prompted strong reactions from Beijing, CNN reported.

Mattis, a former Marine general, angered the Chinese government recently when he stressed the US military’s intention to continue “a steady drumbeat” of naval exercises to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Last month, the Pentagon disinvited China from participating in an annual multinational military drill, known as RimPac, blaming it on Beijing’s escalating militarisation in the South China Sea by deploying new missile systems on its man-made islands in the contested waters.