A previously planned meeting in Beijing between the two defense chiefs was called off amid US-China tensions surrounding the Trump administration’s sanctioning of Beijing over its purchase of Russian weapons systems.
The Chinese government requested the meeting, according to senior Department of Defense officials traveling in Asia with Mattis.
“The fact that he’s meeting with Minister Wei is some evidence that the Chinese are interested in keeping things normal and stable as are we,” US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver told reporters traveling with Mattis.
Schriver said that the Chinese requested the bilateral meeting, which will take place on the sidelines of the ASEAN-led forum in Singapore.
He said the request came after the previously scheduled Beijing meeting was canceled following China’s decision to not have Minister Wei attend that conference.
“The Chinese are interested in having a military relationship that’s stable stabilizing force in the overall relationship,” Schriver said.
US-China tensions have risen in recent weeks, with President Donald Trump accusing China of interfering in November’s midterm elections and the countries are embroiled in a high-profile trade dispute.
While the Navy conducts such freedom of navigation operations all over the world, China is particularly sensitive about the operations when they come near areas where the Chinese government has built islands and established military facilities on disputed maritime features.
The US labeled the Chinese warship’s actions unsafe and unprofessional while Beijing said the US was threatening the safety and sovereignty of China.
The “Chinese have successfully militarized some of these outposts and their behaviors become more assertive and we’re trying to have an appropriate response,” Schriver said while pledging that US “freedom of navigation operations” near the disputed islands would continue.