BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping warmly welcomed U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday on his first visit to China, with a promise to build a stronger relationship between the two superpowers’ militaries as an example of cooperation for the world.
“Our relationship is one of the most important in the world,” Xi told Mattis as the two sat down for discussions. “If we are able to establish a good relationship, it will have benefit to the peace, stability and prosperity to the world and to our two nations and the people of our countries.”
Xi said the military-to-military relationship is “an important part of our overall relationship” and has already benefited from “quite a number of cooperative exchange programs.
“I would hope this momentum of the relationship will continue,” Xi said.
Mattis is on a week-long trip to China, South Korea and Japan.
“I am happy to be here in China and attach the same high degree of importance to the military-to-military relationship,” Mattis said. “This is an important time in the relationship with China and the United States. I’m here to keep our relationship on the right trajectory, the right relationship and share ideas.”
The visit comes as the Rim of the Pacific exercises, the largest cooperative navy program in the world, begins off Hawaii and California. China was disinvited because of its militarization of islands in the South China Sea — actions that have raised tensions between the two nations.
China is simultaneously conducting naval drills near Taiwan, and the U.S. is reportedly sailing vessels — including an aircraft carrier — through the Taiwan Strait.
Earlier in the day, Mattis met with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Wei Fenghe. Mattis invited the minister of defense to meet at the Pentagon.