The US Army chief of staff was visiting China on Tuesday amid tensions over American ally South Korea’s decision to deploy a powerful missile defence system and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
General Mark Milley was due to meet on Tuesday with his Chinese counterpart and other senior People’s Liberation Army leaders to discuss issues of concern and “identify ways to deepen practical cooperation in areas of mutual interest while also constructively managing differences,” the US Army said in a news release.
Milley would also visit the PLA’s Academy of Military Science to exchange views with faculty and students.
China has stridently objected to a decision to base the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, system south of the South Korean capital Seoul, believing its X-Band radar is intended to track missiles inside China. The United States says the system is intended to destroy potential North Korean missiles.
Chinese state media have published daily attacks against the US and South Korea, and China has cancelled events involving South Korean entertainers. China also appears to be withholding support at the United Nations for condemnation of North Korea’s missile programmes.
Milley’s visit also came 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 that the US said had exacerbated tensions in the strategically crucial region.
Highlighting the issue, the interior minister of Taiwan, one of the six governments to claim territory in the South China Sea, planned to travel to Taiping Island where it maintains a garrison.
The visit is “aimed at understanding climate change issues as well as underscoring Taiwan’s sovereignty,” the official Central News Agency quoted Taiwanese officials as saying.
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 coast guard and fishing ships operating in waters surrounding the islands, called the Senkakus by Japan and the Diaoyus by China.
Following his Beijing meetings, Milley will travel to South Korea to meet with US Army troops and hold discussions with Korean military leaders on the THAAD deployment and other issues. He will then travel on to another key US ally and Chinese rival, Japan.