Trip planned despite strains in relationship
China welcomes the planned visit of United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis in the first half of 2018, a Defense Ministry spokesman said on Thursday.
Defense departments from both countries are communicating to facilitate the visit, said Senior Colonel Wu Qian, a ministry spokesman. He did not elaborate on details.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said last week that Mattis is planning his first visit to China during spring. It would be the first China visit in four years by a U.S. secretary of defense.
Wu's remark came amid a series of U.S. military gestures seen as unfriendly to China last week. These included naming China as a "central challenge" to the U.S., U.S. vessels entering waters around Chinese islands in the South China Sea, and U.S. Pacific Command chief Harry Harris calling China "disruptive" in the Indo-Pacific region.
In response to Harris' remark, Wu said, "China has been and always will be a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development and the protector of international order."
"The only thing China wants to disrupt is the hegemonic thinking and Cold War mentality that plagues some people's minds," he added. Some foreign media are also claiming China is building a military base in Afghanistan to hype a Chinese military threat, Wu said, criticizing such reporting as "completely baseless".
Mattis is visiting Southeast Asia to strengthen U.S. military cooperation with countries around the South China Sea, according to reports. Some analysts believe this is a U.S. attempt to sway ASEAN countries from Chinese influence
"Military cooperation should help regional peace and security, not go against it," Wu said.
"A healthy Sino-U.S. military relation is beneficial for the people of both countries and regional peace and security," he said.
"But this relationship needs effort from both sides to maintain. We hope the U.S. will uphold mutual respect, strengthen practical cooperation, manage differences appropriately, and inject positive energy and drive into bilateral relations."
One example of effective communication between the Chinese and U.S. militaries is the phone line established by the two defense ministries in 2008, said Wu. "China and the U.S. have conducted many successful calls with the line."
Li Haidong, a professor of U.S. studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said Mattis will likely visit in April, but his visit will not change the U.S.' confrontational view of China as shown in recent U.S. national defense reports.
"His mission will likely be establishing new communication channels to prevent miscalculations and avoid conflicts," he said. "This is especially important because the U.S. military will likely increase its presence in Asia."