US, Chinese Defense Chiefs Meet in Effort to Improve Ties

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis right is greeted by Vietnam's Air Force Deputy Commander Gen. Bui Anh Chung second from right as he visits Bien Hoa airbase where the U.S. army stored the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War in Bien Hoa

In September, China told the Pentagon that Wei would be unavailable to meet Mattis in Beijing, so that visit was cancelled.

The agreement, signed by defense ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a conference in Singapore, includes a region-wide pact on the exchange of information on terrorism threats.

Defence Ministers from ASEAN countries and that of Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the USA have gathered here for the 12th ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) and the 5th ADMM-Plus, which is being hosted by Singapore.

Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe agreed with the United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis here Thursday to control risks and deepen mutual trust so as to make the relations between the two militaries a stabilizer for the China-U.S. relationship.

Beijing's expansive claims to the South China Sea have always been a source of friction in Southeast Asia, as well as Washington, which has traditionally been the dominant naval power in the area.

The city of Zhanjiang in southern China is home to the South Sea Fleet of the People's Liberation Army.

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In August, Southeast Asian nations and China adopted a negotiating framework for a broader code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Indeed, US officials may be alarmed that traditional allies and partners in Southeast Asia appear to be drawing closer to China at a time when concern is already growing about American commitment to the region under US President Donald Trump.

That framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which has mostly been ignored by claimant states, particularly China, which has built seven islands in disputed waters, three of them equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.

They are aimed at reducing the likelihood that a chance encounter could spiral into conflict in the case of a miscalculation.

"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.

Beijing has cultivated a slew of military assets in strategic areas of the South China Sea for what it calls national defense purposes.

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