The US Army chief of staff told Chinese officials during a visit on Tuesday that China should not feel threatened by American ally South Korea’s decision to deploy a powerful US-developed missile defence system.
General Mark A. Milley met with his Chinese counterpart General Li Zuocheng and other senior People’s Liberation Army leaders amid strong Chinese protests over the decision to base the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, system south of the South Korean capital Seoul.
Milley reiterated the American position that the defence system was intended to destroy possible North Korean missiles and not to track missiles inside China or pose a threat to the nation, the US Army said in a statement.
Chinese state media have published daily attacks against the US and South Korea over the missile defence system and China has cancelled events involving South Korean entertainers. China also appears to be withholding support at the United Nations for condemnations of North Korea’s missile programmes.
Milley’s visit also comes amid friction following an international arbitration panel’s ruling last month that invalidated China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea. China angrily rejected the verdict and has vowed to continue developing man-made islands which the US says have exacerbated tensions in the strategically crucial region.
The army statement said Milley told Chinese officials the US was committed to following international rules “and encouraged the Chinese to do the same as a way to reduce regional tensions”.
Tensions have also spiked in recent days between China and Japan over a chain of uninhabited islands controlled by Tokyo, but claimed by Beijing.
Japan last week called in the Chinese ambassador to protest over a large increase in the number of Chinese coastguard and fishing ships operating in waters surrounding the islands, called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China.
Milley is also due to travel to South Korea to meet with US troops and hold discussions with South Korean military leaders on the THAAD deployment and other issues.
He will then travel to another key US ally and Chinese rival, Japan.