The Defense Department never officially announced the Mattis trip, but many assumed the secretary would fly to Beijing for an annual conference known as the "diplomatic and security dialogue", where he would meet with his opposite number, General Wei Fenghe.
A USA official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mattis was no longer going to China.
Recent tensions between the USA and China are rooted in trade and tariff disputes, but the conflict has begun spilling over into the military arena.
Washington imposed sanctions on a senior Chinese military official last month over China's purchase of Russian surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets.
Since then, China and the USA have been engaged in a trade war, with Washington last week placing tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese imports. China has sought to strengthen its claim to the South China Sea by building seven islands on reefs and equipping them with military facilities such as airstrips, radar domes and missile systems.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday he did not see relations between the United States and China worsening, a day after his trip to China was cancelled. The United States frequently conducts freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to dispute China's claims and to promote free passage through global waters that carry half the world's merchant fleet tonnage, worth trillions of dollars each year.
At the center of the tensions is a growing U.S.
China has been particularly angered by recent overtures by the United States towards Taiwan. And Beijing also opposes a US decision to issue a visa ban and assets freeze on China's Equipment Development Department and its director, Li Shangfu.
"China wants to talk, very badly, and I said, 'Frankly, it's too early to talk.' Can't talk now, because they're not ready", Trump said during remarks on trade at the White House. "Sailors and marines are doing incredible work and we are becoming more lethal every single day", Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of Amphibious Force 7th Fleet, said in a U.S. Navy statement.
China's Foreign Ministry said in a separate statement it strongly urged the United States to stop such "provocative" actions and to "immediately correct its mistakes".
China has unexpectedly canceled an important security dialogue with USA officials, the latest sign of trouble in the embattled bilateral relationship. Washington has no official relations with Taiwan's democratically elected government but is obliged by USA law to see that it has the means to defend itself.
Burns reported from Washington.
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