Mattis To Meet With Chinese Counterpart As Trade War Intensifies

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen meet ASEAN defence ministers during a lunch meeting at the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting in Singapore

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen met his counterparts from the United States and China on Thursday (Oct 18) where they discussed ways to strengthen bilateral relations and regional defence collaboration.

Despite disagreements over Beijing's territorial ambitions, China is trying to strike a more conciliatory tone in an effort to stop a new Cold War erupting in the region.

In August, Southeast Asian nations and China adopted a negotiating framework for a broader code of conduct in the South China Sea.

Ng said the bloc's dialogue partners - Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the U.S. - would be urged to adopt the guidelines at the Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADDM-Plus) on Saturday.

The defense chief said the U.S. would continue "to fly, sail and operate wherever global law allows and our national interests demand", before declaring that the United States "cannot accept the [People's Republic of China's] militarization of the South China Sea or any coercion in this region".

But she added its significance should not be overstated as it was a one-off drill in waters that were not disputed.

"The US is not losing ground exactly because ASEAN chooses to be open and inclusive", she told AFP.

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen presents a signed joint declaration to ASEAN Deputy Secretary General Hoang Anh Tuan at the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting in Singapore
US, Chinese Defense Chiefs Meet in Effort to Improve Ties

"The correct way of solving conflicts and differences is respect and tolerance", Wei told US Defence Secretary James Mattis.

Four ASEAN members - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam - have conflicting claims in the South China Sea with Beijing.

This month, China expressed anger after a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near islands it claims, saying it resolutely opposed an operation that it called a threat to its sovereignty.

USA officials have long expressed dismay at China's construction of industrial outposts and military facilities on artificial islands in the South China Sea but have mostly reserved their reactions to verbal outbursts.

At Friday's meeting, Mattis reiterated Washington's concern "about the militarisation of the features in the South China Sea".

"No single nation can rewrite the worldwide rules of the road, and we expect all nations - large and small - to respect those rules", he added.

His meeting with US Secretary of Defence James Mattis and Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe took place ahead of the 12th Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) and the 5th Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus.

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