Defense Secretary James Mattis was far from conciliatory toward China, condemning them as “shredding the trust of the nations in the region” in comments over the weekend in Japan, but was applauded by the Chinese Foreign Ministry for emphasizing diplomacy over disputes in the South China Sea.
That Mattis’ comments were so welcomed reflects just how much concern there was in the region over comments by other Trump Administration officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who suggested the US should resolve their opposition to China’s island building by militarily excluding China from all those islands.
White House officials had echoed Tillerson’s comments, despite warnings from Chinese state media that this would lead to a massive war in the South China Sea, presenting the move as a military defense of “international territory” from China.
Mattis’ comments appear more measured, or at the very least well short of the bellicosity that prevailed among other official comments, and the hope, for China and the rest of the region, is that Mattis’ comments represent the US backing away from a potential conflict.
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