US Secretary of Defense James Mattis struck a positive tone when he traveled to Beijing this week, expressing a desire to revive high-level diplomatic channels as tensions in strategic arenas ranging from the South and East China Seas to US support for Taiwan’s de facto administrative independence continue to escalate.

“I want to go in right now without basically poisoning the well,” Mattis said. “I’m going there to have a conversation…

“I do not want to immediately go in with a certain preset expectation of what they are going to say. I want to go in and do a lot of listening.”

Following Mattis’ meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, the country’s state media reported on what the US defense chief heard.

“At the same time as we can see the shared interests of the US and China,” Xi was quoted by Chinese state media as saying, “we also don’t shy away from our disagreements.”

With regard to issues that relate to China’s sovereignty and territory, Xi stressed, “our approach is resolute and clear.”

“Even one inch” of the territory handed down by China’s ancestors, he said, “can’t be given up.”

The exchange comes after Mattis has stepped up criticisms of China’s actions in the South China Sea. Earlier this year he warned of “consequences” should Beijing continue “intimidation and coercion” in the region.