US-China relations: can US Defence Secretary Mark Esper’s visit to Beijing stop a cold war getting hot?

US-China relations: can US Defence Secretary Mark Esper’s visit to Beijing stop a cold war getting hot?

  • Despite referring to China’s ‘bad behaviour’, Esper’s desire to visit suggests he is keen to see relations improve, observers say
  • Source close to People’s Liberation Army says military doesn’t want ties to be driven by China’s ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’

China is likely to welcome a visit by US Defence Secretary Mark Esper as it may help to prevent the “cold war” raging between the two countries escalating into a hot war, analysts said.Esper said on Tuesday that he wanted to visit Beijing this year, and the surprise order to close China’s consulate in the US city of Houston should not stop him from doing so, according to Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping.

“Shutting the consulate is a diplomatic issue, while Esper’s visit is a military-to-military affair,” he said. “The two things are not necessarily related.”

Speaking at an online security seminar, Esper said he hoped to make his first visit to China as defence minister “to enhance cooperation on areas of common interest, establish the systems necessary for crisis communications and reinforce our intentions to openly compete in the international system”.However, he said also that Beijing had intensified its “bad behaviour” in the South China Sea in the past six months and that it had “no right to turn international waters into a zone of exclusion for its own maritime empire”.