Dialogue Eases Sino-US Relations, for Now
A frank dialogue between Chinese and U.S. defense chiefs has taken the two countries into a temporary calm period after a series of rival military moves in the contested South China Sea.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis agreed with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, on Friday to continue progress on a "crisis communications and deconfliction framework to reduce risk," the Defense Department said in a statement. Their meeting touched on Beijing's military expansion in the South China Sea, which is claimed by five other governments.
The U.S. side asked China to stop militarizing the sea, while the Chinese told the U.S. government to quit sending naval ships near China-held islets and said it would oppose any acts to split off those land forms. But both agreed that the military relationship "could be a stabilizing factor" in broader Sino-U.S. ties, the Defense Department added.
Analysts said dialogue such as this one in Washington normally brings about a calm period in Sino-U.S. military ties after a series of tougher moves, such as a near ship collision in the sea in September. They predicted the calm would last at least through a Nov. 30-Dec. 1 meeting between the two countries' presidents.
Neither Beijing nor Washington is expected to stop the activities that annoy the other. But both sides will "cool down" because of the meetings, said Collin Koh, a maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
"It is very hard to ignore the fact that they don't actually agree on many things that are in fact the root problems of what we see in the South China Sea," he said.
Countries in Southeast Asia worried about the near collision, while both China and the United States want to keep up relations with those countries to counter the influence of the other power.
"I think there is every reason, every incentive for both [the] U.S. and China to at least create the appearance that they are both keen to stabilize the South China Sea," Koh said.
China cites historical maps to call about 90 percent of the sea its own, despite competing sovereignty claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. It has angered the others, all militarily weaker, over the past decade by building infrastructure on disputed islets for bombers, missiles and radar systems.
The United States has no claim to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea but wants it open internationally for freedom of navigation. The U.S. Navy routinely sends vessels into the sea. It does annual joint naval drills with the Philippines, and in 2016 the U.S. government lifted a ban on selling certain weapons to Vietnam. It also uninvited China to the multi-country RIMPAC wartime exercises in June and July.
At the meetings Friday, Mattis "raised the importance of all maritime forces conducting their operations in a safe and professional manner in accordance with international standards and norms," the statement said. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi also attended.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet in Argentina during a summit of the G-20 major economies, and some of the talks last week were "centering" on that summit, a U.S. State Department statement said. Heads of state generally try to avoid upsetting each other before summits.
Xi and Trump are more likely to touch on their 10-month-old trade dispute than the maritime dispute, some believe. The U.S. government has approved import tariffs this year covering $250 billion in Chinese goods.
"I don't think Trump will say much about the South China Sea when he meets Xi, because that meeting is ostensibly about trade," said Sean King, vice president of the Park Strategies political consultancy in New York.
But the two leaders have the options of exchanging views and making upbeat pledges about the maritime dispute, Koh said.
US Remembers Its Veterans
The United States is observing Veterans Day on Sunday, the annual day it stops to remember the millions of men and women who have served in the country's armed forces, often at the sacrifice of their own lives.
President Donald Trump, in Paris, said on Twitter, "On this Veterans Day — the 100th Anniversary of the end of WWI, we honor the brave HEROES who fought for America in the Great War, and every Veteran who has worn the uniform and kept our Nation Safe, Strong and FREE!"
In his Veterans Day message, former president Barack Obama tweeted, “To all our veterans and your families: thank you. There's no tribute that can truly match the magnitude of your service and sacrifice.”
“But all of us can do our best to live up to the American values of service, responsibility, generosity, and citizenship that you helped defend,” he added.
In the U.S., Veterans Day was originally called “Armistice Day,” to commemorate the end of World War I, but Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance. November 11 each year became a national holiday beginning in 1938, with this year's official observance on Monday since the actual date fell on a weekend this year.