China cancels high-level security meeting with US

China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis review an honour guard during a welcome ceremony at the Bayi Building in Beijing, on June 27, 2018.
China's Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis review an honour guard during a welcome ceremony at the Bayi Building in Beijing, on June 27, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

Move latest sign of bad blood in ties already chilled by trade row

BEIJING • China has cancelled an important annual security meeting planned for the middle of this month with US Defence Secretary James Mattis in Beijing, saying that a senior Chinese military officer would not be available to meet him, said a US official.

Sunday's decision to withdraw from the high-level encounter, known as the US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, was the latest sign of bad blood between China and the United States, and capped a week of tit-for-tat actions by both nations as they settled into a newly chilly relationship.

The cancellation of the dialogue, an event that China until recently had advertised as a productive way for the two sides to talk, showed how quickly the tensions over an escalating trade war have infected other parts of the relationship, particularly vital strategic concerns including Taiwan, arms sales and the South China Sea.

US Vice-President Mike Pence is expected to deliver a major speech this week describing the administration's negative views of China's international behaviour over the past number of years, including what it sees as efforts to influence American domestic politics. The speech will almost certainly further dampen the increasingly frosty ties between Washington and Beijing.

The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on a Chinese state military firm for buying arms from Russia, and announced sales of US$330 million (S$450 million) in military equipment to Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims as its own.

China was also irked by a Pentagon announcement last Wednesday that B-52 bombers had flown over the East China Sea and South China Sea as part of its "continuous bomber presence in the region". China claims almost all of the South China Sea, and protests against US military patrols there.

President Donald Trump, who has been battering China over trade, turned to a new front last week, accusing Beijing of interfering in the approaching midterm elections by buying major advertising space in an Iowa newspaper.

 
 
 

China told the Trump administration last Friday that a senior Chinese military official would not be meeting Mr Mattis, said the US official. Whether the accumulation of last week's episodes, or one in particular, provoked the decision to scuttle the dialogue is not clear.

But the sanctions on the Chinese military's Equipment Development Department, for purchases of fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles from Russia, seemed to particularly sting, the official said.

In some respects, Beijing's move to abandon the dialogue, at least for the moment, was not surprising. The Foreign Ministry signalled last week that the arms sale to Taiwan threatened to cause "severe damage" to relations with the US, including "bilateral cooperation in major fields". Last Tuesday, China refused a request by a US warship to make a port visit to Hong Kong this month.

On another front that could add to the sour feelings, the US ambassador in Beijing published a strongly worded opinion article on Sunday in his hometown newspaper, the Des Moines Register. The article, a reply to a four-page advertorial paid for in the newspaper by the Chinese government last weekend, accused China of bullying and unfair trade practices. It also complained about China's state-controlled press.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2018, with the headline 'China cancels high-level security meeting with US'. Print Edition | Subscribe