BEIJING — Defense Secretary James Mattis came to China armed with his knowledge of geography, history and the determination to see — perhaps prove — that retired generals do not fade away, they make the world better.
Mattis believed the two superpowers could find common ground, trumpet that duet, and then try to proceed to soften the dissonance that has dominated U.S-China dialogue. Mattis said such a tactic worked before — when Nixon opened China, when Reagan got the Soviets to cut nuclear weapons — and he reckoned a military-to-military realpolitik could generate success again.
What he did not realize was that he had a not-so-secret weapon that would be a key to getting him into the door and into the conversation.
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