A significant annual security meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has been canceled by China. Several point to the increasingly cold relations between both countries as the reason for the cancellation. Points of contention between both nations include the ongoing trade war, arms sales, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Regarding arms sales, President Trump recently placed sanctions on a Chinese military equipment company because they sold arms to Russia. In response, $300 million in military equipment was sold to Taiwan. Beijing has also expressed its anger toward the U.S. military’s presence in the heavily disputed South China Sea. When asked about the bittering relations, U.S. senior official Matt Pottinger framed the relationship between both nations as a competition saying, “For us, in the United States, competition is not a four-letter word,”. Vice President Mike Pence is expected to speak on the issue later this week. What specifically provoked the cancellation of the visit has not been confirmed as China entered a week-long holiday and government officials are unavailable for comment, however some point to the sanctions on the Chinese military equipment company as the catalyst.
China Cancels High-Level Security Talks With the U.S.
BEIJING — China canceled an important annual security meeting planned for mid-October with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Beijing, saying a senior Chinese military officer would not be available to meet him, an American official said on Sunday.
The decision to withdraw from the high-level encounter, known as the 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.
A senior American foreign policy official summarized the administration’s attitude to China last week, telling a crowd at the celebration of national day at the Chinese Embassy in Washington that the United States was intent on competing with China — brittle language that is usually absent from formal events.
“For us, in the United States, competition is not a four-letter word,” the senior official, Matt Pottinger, who deals with China on the National Security Council, said in his remarks.
Vice President Pence is expected to deliver a major speech this week describing the administration’s negative views of China’s international behavior over the last 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.
In that spirit, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a Chinese state military company for buying weapons from Russia, and announced sales of $330 million in military equipment to Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy that Beijing claims as its own.
China was also irritated by a Pentagon announcement last Wednesday that B-52 bombers had flown over the East China Sea and the South China Sea as part of its “continuous bomber presence in the region.” China claims almost all of the South China Sea, and strongly protests American military patrols there.
President 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 on Friday that a senior Chinese military official would not be meeting Mr. Mattis, the American official said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity per diplomatic norm.
At last year’s security and diplomatic dialogue, the chief of the People’s Liberation Army, Gen. Fang Fenghui, attended the sessions held in Washington. (General Fang was purged shortly afterward, for unrelated reasons.)
Whether the accumulation of last week’s episodes, or one in particular, provoked the decision to scuttle the dialogue is not clear, the American official said.
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 signaled last week that the arms sale to Taiwan threatened to cause “severe damage” to relations with the United States, including “bilateral cooperation in major fields.”
Last Tuesday, China refused a request by an American warship to make a port visit to Hong Kong in October.
China began a weeklong holiday Sunday. Government officials were not available for comment on the cancellation of the meeting.
On another front that could add to the sour feelings, the United States Ambassador in Beijing published a strongly worded opinion article on Sunday in his hometown newspaper, the Des Moines Register.
The opinion piece, a reply to a four-page advertorial paid for in the Register by the Chinese government last weekend, accused China of bullying and of unfair trade practices. It also complained about China’s state-controlled press.
The ambassador, Terry Branstad, an early supporter of Mr. Trump, is a former governor of Iowa, a state whose farmers are in the crossfire of Mr. Trump’s trade war. Iowa’s soybean farmers face slumping sales as China turns to Latin America to buy the huge amounts of soybeans it usually buys in Iowa.
Mr. Branstad wrote that Mr. Trump was seeking to level the playing field between American companies and their Chinese competitors by imposing tariffs.
“Unfortunately, China has responded to such action by taking further steps to harm American workers, farmers and businesses through retaliatory actions — and is now doubling down on that bullying by running propaganda ads in our own free press,” he said.
He noted that the Chinese media was “under the firm thumb of the Chinese Communist Party” and lacked “any true reflection of the disparity of opinions the Chinese people may have on China’s troubling economic trajectory.”
The ambassador wrote in the opinion piece that one of China’s leading newspapers had declined — “dodged,” he said — to publish his article.
American ambassadors rarely write articles in the American press while representing the United States abroad. Sometimes they offer pieces of anodyne content designed to burnish the reputation of the United States to newspapers in the countries where they serve.
Mr. Branstad appeared anxious to make a stand against the supplement paid for by China. The supplement looked at the economic costs of Mr. Trump’s trade war for Iowa farmers, many of whom are particularly dependent on global trade.
An American lawyer in Beijing said he found the tone of Mr. Branstad’s article inappropriate.
“Taking out advertisements in an American newspaper may be propaganda, but is it bullying?” said James Zimmerman, a former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. “Ambassador Branstad is now playing the demonization card, which is putting the commercial and strategic interests of the United States at risk.”
Source: New York Times, Jane Perlez, Sep. 30, 2018. Photo credit to Mark Schiefelbein/Pool Photo.