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US, Chinese Defense Chiefs Meet in Effort to Improve Ties

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, meets with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe in Singapore, Oct. 18, 2018.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has told his Chinese counterpart that improved high-level relations between their countries will reduce the risk of unintentional conflict.

Mattis and Chinese General Wei Fenghe met on the sidelines of an Asian security conference in Singapore in an effort to normalize military relations. Following the talks, U.S. officials said they sensed relations with China's military had stabilized, although the talks did not produce new agreements.

Military relations between Washington and Beijing had deteriorated in recent weeks over a bitter trade war, U.S. sanctions against China's military for buying weapons from Russia, and Beijing's creation of military outposts in the South China Sea.

Pentagon official Randall Schriver told reporters after the longer-than-expected 90-minute meeting that Mattis "repeated our desire for a durable relationship that is a stabilizing force in the overall relationship."

Mattis planned to meet in Beijing with Wei a few weeks ago, but Chinese officials said Wei was not available, one of several indications strained U.S.-China relations had spread into the military arena. China's snub came as it reacted angrily to the sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump has often lambasted China over its economic policies. Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence accused Beijing of using "predatory" trade practices and resorting to military "aggression."

China did not immediately comment to U.S. media after the meeting between Mattis and Wei during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference.