Amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over a myriad of issues ranging from the ongoing trade war and the South China Sea dispute, US defence Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in the Chinese capital.
Mattis, who is the first Pentagon chief to visit China since 2014, met with Xi as part of a three-day-visit to the Chinese capital, following talks with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe.
"I'm here to keep our relationship on the right trajectory, keep it going in the right direction and to share ideas with your military leadership, as well as look at the way ahead," Mattis told Xi.
"The Chinese-US relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world," Xi said.
"Over the recent years this military-to-military relationship has had good momentum... I would like to hope this momentum of the military-to-military relationship would continue."
Mattis, on his first visit to China, came in search of a "very open and honest dialogue" about the long-term strategic goals of both countries.
Ahead of the visit he acknowledged the tensions but said he believed he could find areas where the two militaries could cooperate, in hopes of building better communications and reducing the chances of conflict.
"I think the way to address issues between our two nations is to first establish a transparent strategic dialogue: how do the Chinese see the relationship with us developing, how we see it developing," he said before the visit.
However, China sent a strong warning to US regarding its claim over the disputed islands in the South China Sea. President Xi said that China would not create chaos in the world, but he defended its claim to disputed islands in the South China Sea.
"Chinese people must build a strong socialist modernised country, but we insist on taking the path of peaceful development. We will not follow the path of expansionism and colonialism, we will not bring chaos to the world," Xi told the visiting Pentagon chief. Xi added that China would not give up even one inch of the territory.
"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," state television cited Xi as saying.
Mattis, a former Marine general, has been highly critical of China’s muscular military moves in the disputed South China Sea. The US military even withdrew an invitation to China to join a multinational naval exercise that will start during Mattis’ visit, upsetting Beijing.
The United States accuses China of militarising the South China Sea with its island-building work there, while China has been angered by US naval patrols through the strategic waterway.
However, the two nations have broad strategic common interests, such as ensuring peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.
China welcomed this month’s historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean supremo Kim Jong Un in Singapore, where Kim reaffirmed a commitment to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, while Trump said he would halt joint US-South Korean “war games”.