Beijing : Chinese President Xi Jinping told US Defence Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday that China has no plans to create chaos in the world — although he defended his country’s claim to disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Answering Mattis’s open questions about China’s strategic intentions, amid rising tensions between the two countries, Xi stood firm on the Beijing’s occupation of small islands in the centre of Southeast Asia, where it has installed modern weapons systems, runways and aircraft hangers.

“Chinese people must build a strong socialist modernised country, but we insist on taking the path of peaceful development. We will not follow the path of expansionism and colonialism, we will not bring chaos to the world,” Xi told the visiting Pentagon chief.

But Xi, quoted by Xinhua news agency, added: “While seeing the existing common interests of China and the United States, we also do not shun the differences that exist between the two sides.”

“Regarding the issue of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, our attitude is firm and clear. From the territory left by our ancestors, (we will not) give up even one inch.” Xi’s comments were a direct rebuff to Mattis’s criticism at a security conference in early June, where he had accused the Chinese leader of reneging on a promise not to place weaponry on the built-up atolls in the South China Sea that Beijing says are historically Chinese.

Beijing has installed missile batteries and recently landed long-range bombers on some of the reclaimed outposts. China claims almost the entire resource-rich sea, through which $5 trillion in shipping trade passes annually, with competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Mattis had said China’s actions were aimed at “intimidation and coercion” in the Southeast Asian region.

The Pentagon chief arrived in Beijing late yesterday for talks with his Chinese counterparts and Xi aimed at taking a measure of China’s global security ambitions.

Mattis, who had never been to China before and had not met recently appointed defence minister Wei Fenghe, said that despite some glaring differences, including Beijing’s increased pressure on US ally Taiwan, and soaring trade tensions, he had hoped to find some common ground that could foster military-to-military cooperation.

Over the long run, that could be a stabiliser as the two superpowers compete for strategic position in the Indo-Pacific region.

“I’m here to keep our relationship on the right trajectory, keep it going in the right direction and to share ideas with your military leadership, as well as look at the way ahead,” he said at the outset of his meeting with Xi.Xi echoed those sentiments, urging more cooperation and communication between the two countries’ armed forces.”The Chinese-US relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world,” Xi said. “The common ground of the two parties far exceeds the differences.

“In recent years, the relations between the two armies have maintained a good momentum,” he told Mattis.

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