The Defence Secretary will make his first visit to China this week and speaking on his plane as he travels to Asia, he claimed points of disagreement will be avoided during the talks with Chinese leaders and that he will tell Beijing he is “ready to listen”.
Mr Mattis said: “I want to go in right now without basically poisoning the well at this point.
“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.”
According to officials, one of the main topics in the Sino-American talks will be the role that China can play in the denuclearisation of North Korea.
The Defence Secretary’s more diplomatic approach is justified by the US administration recognition of China playing a crucial role in the negotiations with North Korea.
Less than a month ago, Mr Mattis disinvited China from a multinational exercise in the Pacific, in retribution for Beijing putting weapons systems on manmade islands in the South China Sea.
And days later he publicly threatened Beijing, stating if militarisation continued there would have been “much larger consequences in the future”.
However, a senior US official said the Defence Minister will not touch any “irritants” during the talks with China.
Instead, the US official said the goal of the conversation is to have higher quality talks about the two countries’ military relationship.
While in Beijing, from Tuesday to Thursday, Mr Mattis will meet with senior Chinese defence officials and perhaps meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping
The four-day trip will also take Mr Mattis to South Korea, where he will hold talks with Minster of National Defence Song Young-moo and to Japan, where he plans to meet with Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera.
The meetings are aimed at reassuring South Korea and Japan the US remains committed to regional security after Trump announced at the summit with Kim Jong-un in early June the US would stop joint military exercises it routinely conducts with South Korea.
By improving its relationship with Beijing, the US believes it could better prepare for any problems and be able to coordinate more effectively with China.
This is Mr Mattis’ first trip to China, both personally and as Defence Secretary.