The U.S. Army chief of staff told Chinese officials during a visit Tuesday that China should not feel threatened by American ally South Korea’s decision to deploy a powerful U.S. missile defense system.

Gen. Mark A. Milley met with his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng, and other senior People’s Liberation Army leaders amid strong Chinese protests over the decision to base the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system south of the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Milley reiterated the American position that the defense system is intended to destroy possible North Korean missiles and not to track missiles inside China. Milley said THAAD is not a threat to China, the U.S. Army said in a statement.

Chinese state media have published daily attacks against the U.S. and South Korea over the missile defense system, and China has canceled events involving South Korean entertainers. China also appears to be withholding support at the United Nations for condemnations of North Korea’s missile programs.

Milley’s visit also comes amid friction following an international arbitration panel’s ruling last month that invalidated China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea. China angrily rejected the verdict and has vowed to continue developing man-made islands that the U.S. says have exacerbated tensions in the strategically crucial region.

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