China warns U.S. in sea fuss

Wash­ing­ton is told to keep ships, planes away from is­lands

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - MATTHEW PENNINGTON

WASH­ING­TON — China told the United States to stop send­ing ships and mil­i­tary air­craft close to is­lands claimed by Bei­jing in the South China Sea, dur­ing talks Fri­day that set the stage for a meet­ing be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping later this month.

The U.S. pushed back, in­sist­ing it will con­tinue to “fly, sail and op­er­ate wher­ever in­ter­na­tional law al­lows.” In late Septem­ber, U.S. and Chi­nese ves­sels nearly col­lided near a dis­puted reef.

De­spite the frank air­ing of dif­fer­ences at the meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton of the two na­tions’ top diplo­mats and mil­i­tary chiefs, both sides stressed the need to tamp down ten­sions, which have flared amid a trade dis­pute that Trump and Xi are ex­pected to tackle at the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina.

“The United States is not pur­su­ing a pol­icy of Cold War con­tain­ment with China,” Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo told re­porters af­ter the U.S.-China Diplo­matic and Se­cu­rity Di­a­logue. “Rather we want to en­sure that China acts re­spon­si­bly and fairly in sup­port of se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity of each of our two coun­tries.”

The talks were due to be held in Bei­jing last month but were post­poned af­ter Wash­ing­ton an­nounced new arms sales to Tai­wan, and af­ter a Chi­nese de­stroyer came close to the USS De­catur in late Septem­ber in what the U.S. Navy called an “un­safe and un­pro­fes­sional ma­neu­ver.” Bei­jing has sweep­ing but dis­puted sovereignty claims in the area.

“The Chi­nese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop send­ing its ves­sels and mil­i­tary air­craft close to Chi­nese is­lands and reefs and stop ac­tions that un­der­mine Chi­nese au­thor­ity and se­cu­rity in­ter­ests,” said Pom­peo’s Chi­nese coun­ter­part, Yang Jiechi, who also had sharp words over U.S. sup­port for Tai­wan.

How­ever, Yang and China’s de­fense min­is­ter, Wei Fenghe, spoke of the need to im­prove co­op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing be­tween the U.S. and Chi­nese mil­i­taries, to ease the risk of con­flict as the two pow­ers jockey for pre-em­i­nence in the Asia-Pa­cific.

“Co­op­er­a­tion is the only op­tion for us,” Wei said. “Con­fronta­tion and con­flict be­tween the two mil­i­taries will spell dis­as­ter for us all.”

De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis as­serted U.S. rights to free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion but also said the two sides should work to­gether on ar­eas of com­mon in­ter­est. “Com­pe­ti­tion does not mean hos­til­ity. Nor must it lead to con­flict,” Mat­tis said.

Although the reschedul­ing of the di­a­logue sig­naled an ef­fort by the two sides to con­tain the slide in the re­la­tion­ship, it did not ad­dress the core dis­pute on trade. Trump has slapped tar­iffs on $250 bil­lion in Chi­nese prod­ucts, in a push to nar­row the U.S. trade deficit and push back against what the U.S. views as preda­tory Chi­nese tac­tics on the high tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try. Bei­jing has re­tal­i­ated with tar­iffs on $110 mil­lion worth of U.S. goods.

Yun Sun, a China ex­pert at the Stim­son Cen­ter think tank, said Bei­jing is un­cer­tain about what Trump wants out of a trade deal, but hopes that with U.S. midterm elec­tions out of the way, he may be more in­clined to reach a com­pro­mise.

On hu­man rights, Pom­peo voiced con­cern over China’s treat­ment of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, in­clud­ing the mass de­ten­tion of mi­nor­ity Uighur Mus­lims. But over­all, the tone of the U.S. of­fi­cials’ pub­lic com­ments was milder than that of the Chi­nese. Yang in­sisted that Chi­nese peo­ple have free­dom of re­li­gion, and that “for­eign coun­tries have no right to in­ter­fere.”

AP/PABLO MARTINEZ MON­SI­VAIS

De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis and Chi­nese De­fense Min­is­ter Wei Fenghe stand Fri­day as their coun­tries’ na­tional an­thems are played at a wel­com­ing cer­e­mony at the Pen­tagon be­fore their talks.

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