BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday it was coordinating with the United States on a possible visit to China by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, which would be the first such trip under U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
Since Trump took office, Mattis has made several tours of Asia, including trips to Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia.
His trip to South Korea in October included a stop at the heavily fortified border with North Korea amid tension over its nuclear weapon and missile programmes.
But Mattis did not accompany Trump on his state visit to Beijing in November.
“As for the visit of Defense Secretary Mattis to China, defence departments in both countries are currently coordinating on this,” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said when asked about the issue during a monthly news briefing.
“At the same time, other exchange programmes between the two countries’ militaries are also being pushed forward in a smooth manner in accordance with plans,” Ren said.
He did not elaborate.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said it did not have any information to release.
Japanese media cited the U.S. Pentagon in January as saying Mattis could visit China in the spring.
Ren’s comments comes after Beijing last week angrily objected to a so-called freedom of navigation patrol by a U.S. warship close to one of its artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea.
Tensions have simmered between the two countries’ militaries over the disputed waters.
Nonetheless, China has said that it has again been invited to attend a major U.S.-hosted naval drill this year, the Rim of the Pacific exercise.
Ren said China would send a working group to the United States early next month to discuss its participation.
The drills, known as RIMPAC, are billed as the world’s largest international maritime exercise, and are held every two years in Hawaii in June and July. China has attended previously.
Pentagon officials have long complained that China has not been candid enough about its rapid military build-up, whereas Chinese officials have accused Washington of viewing their country in suspicious, “Cold War” terms.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel