US Secretary of Defense James Mattis canceled a trip to Beijing originally scheduled for mid-October after China informed the US that Chinese officials would not be available to meet him for the annual diplomatic and security dialogue.
This is the second senior-level meeting China has canceled in a week, as tensions between the US and China boil. Chinese Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong suddenly called off a meeting with his American counterpart, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.
"The tension is escalating, and that could prove to be dangerous to both sides," a US official told Reuters.
Not only are the US and China locked in a trade war involving punitive trade penalties and tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in American and Chinese goods, but the situation is also becoming much more heated in the military and defense sphere.
The Department of State sanctioned a key procurement agency of the Chinese People's Liberation Army on September 20 over China's purchase of Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 surface-to-air missile systems, in violation of US sanctions on Russia. Beijing expressed outrage over the move by Washington, which some observers saw as an attempt to contain Chinese military power.
Last Monday, the US proposed a $330 million arms sale to Taiwan to bolster its air combat capabilities. Beijing strongly protested, urging the US to "avoid doing serious damage" to the US-China relationship. The Chinese also rejected a request by the US Navy amphibious assault ship USS Wasp to make a port call in Hong Kong this month during the fallout over the recent sanctions and proposed arms sale.
Amid deteriorating ties, the US sent US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress heavy long-range bombers tearing through the South China Sea twice in three days, once on September 23 and again on September 25. One day after the latter flight, another B-52 bomber conducted joint drills over the contested East China Sea with fighter jets from the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, another potential message to Beijing.
The US sent bombers through the East and South China Sea four times in August.
China criticised the flights, calling them "provocative" and threatening to "take necessary measures' to defend its national interests. The Chinese military conducted "live fire shooting drills" in the South China Sea this past weekend in a show of force.
On Sunday, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur sailed challenged China's excessive claims to the South China Sea, sailing through the so-called "territorial seas" of Chinese-occupied territories in the Spratly Islands.
While the US has carried out around a dozen freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea since 2015, "this one might be coinciding with the highest point of bilateral tensions," Ankit Panda, foreign policy expert and senior editor at The Diplomat, wrote on Twitter.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Friday that there is "no cause for panic" over the increased friction in the US-China bilateral relationship, but ties do appear to be deteriorating at an alarming rate. Last Wednesday, President Donald Trump, who has long touted his friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, suggested that this friendship may have come to an end.
"He may not be a friend of mine anymore," the president said at a press conference.
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