Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday. “We cannot lose even one inch of the territory left behind by our ancestors. What is other people’s, we do not want at all,” Xi informed his American guest.
This is the latest restatement of China’s policy that some sort of ancient birthright gives it rightful control of almost the entire South China Sea, as defined by an imaginary boundary called the “Nine-Dash Line.” The line extends much further out to sea than any “exclusive economic zone” recognized by international arbitrators.
The United States has officially rejected the Nine-Dash Line since 2014, as have international courts. China simply ignores court rulings against its claims and pressures the claimants into doing likewise.
Xi dropped his “not one inch of territory” declaration on Mattis after a day of meetings that were described by both Chinese and American officials as cordial and constructive, although even the more affable Chinese officials, like Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, tend to define “avoiding conflict” and “win-win cooperation” as giving China everything it wants.
That is certainly how China’s state-run Global Times saw it:
“There are some issues concerning China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity which have become increasingly tense because of US moves,” such as South China Sea issues and the Taiwan question. “So, through the meeting, China is sending a warning to the US by reaffirming its bottom line,” Diao Daming, an American studies expert and associate professor at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.
Mattis has heard the most authoritative voice from China on these issues and questions, and this might indicate that China’s legitimate activities in regions like the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits won’t be affected by military actions from the US, said Xu Guangyu, a retired PLA major general and senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.
The South China Sea is a hot topic, especially since Mattis recently spoke out against Chinese militarization of the region to “intimidate and coerce” nations with competing claims and China was disinvited from the international RIMPAC exercise on that basis. However, many observers believe Taiwan was a higher-priority item on the Defense Secretary’s agenda. Xi’s comment about refusing to give up ancestral Chinese territory could certainly apply to Taiwan.
At a press conference on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry made a point of publicly reminding Taiwan that it cannot rely on the United States to protect it. The Foreign Ministry also boasted that China’s campaign to pick off Taiwan’s partner nations has been highly successful.
“We hope certain people in Taiwan could correctly understand the development trend of China and its national unity as well as the evolvement of international circumstance and stop moving further down the wrong path,” said spokesman Lu Kang, responding to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s appeal for international resistance to the expansion of Chinese “hegemonic influence.”