US, China compete to lure ASEAN members

US, China compete to lure ASEAN members

US Secretary of Defence James Mattis met his Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, for 1½ hours on Thursday on the sidelines of the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting, after weeks of deepening tensions that included a nearcollision between two warships in the South China Sea.

Mattis "repeated our desire for a durable relationship that is a stabilising force in the overall relationship", Randall Schriver, the Pentagon's assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, told reporters after the almost 90-minute meeting on the sidelines of a security summit in Singapore.

Yesterday, Mr Mattis assured Asean defence ministers at an informal meeting that the United States seeks a constructive relationship with China and wants to cooperate on the denuclearisation of North Korea. A participant, Randall Schriver, the Pentagon's top official for Asia-Pacific affairs, said Mattis described the talks as "straightforward and candid" and asserted that high-level talks are especially valuable during times of tension.

The pair had been due to meet earlier the month but Beijing cancelled the meeting, apparently in retaliation for Washington sanctioning a unit of China's military for buying Russian fighter jets and missiles in September.

The Southeast Asian defense ministers also agreed on guidelines to prevent unplanned encounters between their military aircraft, and will propose them to other countries, including the U.S. and China, at a meeting on Saturday, Ng said.

"I think that all of us joining hands together, ASEAN allies and partners, and we affirm as we do so that no single nation can rewrite the global rule to the road and expect all nations large and small to respect those rules", Mattis said during a meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, according to The Hill.

Mattis said he remains keen for a "constructive relationship" with China but expressed concern about its military activities in the disputed South China Sea.

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Beijing has been providing economic aid to Southeast Asian nations with the aim of making them its ally.

The U.S. side is devoted to promoting the relations between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, and hopes to further enhance exchanges between the two militaries at all levels, and take good advantage of the mutual trust and cooperation mechanism, so as to push the relations between the two militaries ahead on a right track.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him earlier this week, Mattis acknowledged that the relationship has been hard in recent times.

As part of this, the navies of China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, are set to hold their first joint drills, which will take place in the South China Sea.

A long-running point of contention between the two countries is China's ongoing militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea, one of the world's most important sea lanes.

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

"They do face potential risk angering China", Schriver said.

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