Thursday 22 August 2019

We won't budge an inch on territory, Xi warns the US

China’s president Xi Jinping. Photo: REUTERS
China’s president Xi Jinping. Photo: REUTERS

Karla DeWintours in Beijing

Chinese president Xi Jinping has warned the US he will not give up any of his country's territory as tensions on trade and security simmer.

Mr Xi made the unusually blunt statement when he met US defence secretary James Mattis in Beijing.

It appeared to be a reference to US complaints about Chinese military deployments in the disputed South China Sea and a push by US lawmakers to expand ties with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a province.

"Our stance is steadfast and clear-cut when it comes to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Xi said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. "We cannot lose one inch of territory passed down by our ancestors. Meanwhile, we want nothing from others."

The meeting illustrates how disputes between the world's two largest economies extend beyond Donald Trump's plans to slap tariffs on Chinese goods and restrict the country's investments.

In recent months, the Pentagon has branded China a "strategic competitor" and rescinded an invitation to join annual international military exercises that began yesterday near Hawaii.

Commentators say Mr Xi cannot afford to look weak after the ruling Communist Party repealed presidential term limits in March, and he's pledged to go blow for blow on trade.

He has warned against efforts to widen divisions with Taiwan and in April presided over China's largest-ever naval review in a display of its growing military reach.

His comments were printed on the influential front page of the party's flagship 'People's Daily' newspaper.

Videos broadcast on Chinese state media showed Mr Mattis - the first US defence chief to visit Beijing in four years - studiously taking notes as Mr Xi spoke.

"I'm here to keep our relationship on a great trajectory, going in the right direction, and to share ideas with your leadership, your military leadership, as we look at the way ahead," he said.

Since Mr Xi hosted Mr Mattis's predecessor, Chuck Hagel, in 2014, China has launched a second aircraft carrier and outlined plans to build a "world-class" military by 2050.

Mr Trump has, meanwhile, replaced Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia" with an "Indo-Pacific" policy that looks to draw India into the regional security framework as a counterweight to China.

In recent weeks, prominent Chinese academics have begun to question whether the leadership underestimated the depth of anti-China sentiment in Washington and risked a premature showdown with the world's sole superpower.

Mr Mattis told a gathering of Asian defence chiefs earlier this month that Beijing's deployments of aircraft and missile batteries in the South China Sea were causing the US to reconsider its "cooperative stance."

He said China risked "larger consequences".

However, Mr Trump needs Mr Xi's help to keep North Korea engaged with disarmament talks.

Last week, Kim Jong-un made his third visit to Beijing since March in a demonstration of China's enduring sway as his country's leading ally.

Irish Independent

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