Mattis Rips Into China Days After Tillerson Calls For Cooperation

REUTERS/Toru Hanai

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The secretary of defense called out China Wednesday for unfairly subjugating countries from the South China Sea to the Korean peninsula.

Only a few days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrapped up his first official trip to Beijing to encourage bilateral cooperation, Secretary of Defense James Mattis criticized China for its efforts to construct a traditional sphere of influence and turn other countries in the region into tribute states.

“In the South China Sea, we see China shredding trust as they adopt a tribute nation kind of approach where all other nations have to pay tribute or acquiescence to the more powerful nation, the larger nation,” Mattis explained during a Senate Committee on Appropriations hearing Wednesday. He also accused Beijing of “seeking veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of nations on their periphery.”

The secretary of defense compared China’s increasingly-assertive behavior and quest to control the region to imperial China’s subjugation of some of its neighbors through the tributary system during the Ming Dynasty.

Mattis’s comments echo previous statements made in Japan, where he said, “China has shredded the trust of nations in the region, apparently trying to have a veto authority over the diplomatic and security and economic conditions of neighboring states.”

He characterized China’s behavior as “increasingly confrontational.”

In the South China Sea, China continues to assert its dominance through the development of new military outposts and rules and regulations for vessels passing through Chinese jurisdictional waters. On the Korean Peninsula, China is exerting strong economic pressure on South Korea to abandon plans with the U.S. to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system on South Korean soil to defend the people of South Korea against the growing North Korean nuclear threat.

While Tillerson called China’s economic retaliation “inappropriate and troubling,” discussions with Chinese officials in Beijing reportedly focused heavily on cooperation. Parroting the rhetoric of the Chinese government, Tillerson indicated that the U.S.-China relationship should be based on “non-confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect, and … win-win solutions.”

During the Senate hearing, Mattis called for stronger conventional and nuclear forces to mitigate the threats from major powers like Russia and China, radical extremism and terrorism, and rogue states like North Korea.

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