US Defense Chief Gets Earful as China Visit Exposes Tensions

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan listen to the Chinese national anthem during a welcoming ceremony at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing on April 8, 2014. (Photo: Reuters / Alex Wong)

BEIJING — Tensions between China and the United States were on full display on Tuesday as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel faced questions in Beijing about America’s position in bitter territorial disputes with regional US allies.

Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan, standing side-by-side with Hagel, called on the United States to restrain ally Japan and chided another US ally, the Philippines.

Then, Hagel was sharply questioned by Chinese officers at the National Defense University. One of them told Hagel he was concerned that the United States was stirring up trouble in the East and South China Sea because it feared someday “China will be too big a challenge for the United States to cope with.”

“Therefore you are using such issues … to make trouble to hamper [China’s] development,” the officer said.

Hagel assured the audience that America had no interest in trying to “contain China” and that it took no position in such disputes. But he also cautioned repeatedly during the day that the United States would stand by its allies.

“We have mutual self-defense treaties with each of those two countries,” Hagel said, referring to Japan and the Philippines. “And we are fully committed to those treaty obligations.”

The questioning came just a day after Hagel toured China’s sole aircraft carrier, in a rare opening by Beijing to a potent symbol of its military ambitions. Chinese Defense Minister Chang called Hagel, the top civilian at the Pentagon, the first foreign military official to be allowed on board the Liaoning.

Chang and Hagel spoke positively about improving military ties and announced steps to deepen them. But the effort could do little to mask long-standing tension over a range of issues, from cyber spying and US arms sales to Taiwan to China’s military buildup itself.

At a seminar in New York, China’s ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said Washington needed to think hard about the purpose of its military presence in Asia and whether its political agenda and those of its Asian allies were the same.

He spoke of the need to move away from “outdated alliances” and warned against any attempt to create an Asian version of the NATO Western military alliance to contain China.

“If your mission there is to contain some other country, then you are back in the Cold War again, maybe,” he said. “If your intention is to establish an Asian NATO, then we are back in the Cold War-era again. This is something that will serve nobody’s interest, it’s quite clear.”

Beyond developing an aircraft carrier program, China’s People’s Liberation Army is building submarines, surface ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles, and has tested emerging technology aimed at destroying missiles in mid-air.

That expansion carries risks as Chinese forces come into greater contact with US forces in the Pacific, Hagel said.

“As the PLA modernizes its capabilities and expands its presence in Asia and beyond, American and Chinese forces will be drawn into closer proximity—which increases the risk of an incident, an accident, or a miscalculation,” Hagel said in a speech at the National Defense University.

“But this reality also presents new opportunities for cooperation.”

The risks of a mishap were highlighted in December when the American guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens had to take evasive action in the South China Sea to avoid hitting a Chinese warship operating in support of the Liaoning.

China’s military modernization has also been accompanied by a more assertive posture in its territorial disputes.

China claims 90 percent of the 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) South China Sea, where the Philippines, along with other countries, stake claims. China has a separate dispute with Japan in the East China Sea over uninhabited islets that are administered by Japan.

Chang asked the United States to “keep [Japan] within bounds and not to be permissive and supportive,” and railed against the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who Hagel met in Tokyo last weekend.

“It is Japan who is being provocative against China,” Chang told a news conference after talks with Hagel.

“If you come to the conclusion that China is going to resort to force against Japan, that is wrong … we will not take the initiative to stir up troubles.”

Chang called the Philippines a nation “disguising itself as a victim” and renewed its opposition to Manila’s pursuit of international arbitration in its territorial dispute.

Hagel, who met the defense minister from the Philippines last week, said he raised US concerns in Beijing over the tension in the South and East China Sea.

He cautioned that no countries should resort to “intimidation, coercion, or aggression to advance their claims.”

The US State Department has accused China’s coastguard of harassment of Philippine vessels and called an attempt to block a Philippine resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal, a disputed atoll, provocative and destabilizing.

Also speaking at the New York seminar, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who led the US effort to engage with Communist China in the 1970s, compared the rivalries in Asia, particularly between China and Japan, and the latent threat of the use of force, to 19th century Europe.

“I would give both of them the same advice—to be extremely restrained and not to permit that situation to develop into a military confrontation,” he said, referring to the leaders of Japan and China.

“We as Americans, being allied with Japan, but in partnership of some kind with China; we should not be put in a position to choose. We should make clear to both sides that we will be sympathetic and helpful, but we are strongly opposed to a military confrontation, which really would have huge consequences in the region.”

Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington.

One Response to US Defense Chief Gets Earful as China Visit Exposes Tensions


    Unfortunately, after WW2, the USA, in an extraordinarily offensive act of classic colonial european arrogance, unilaterally ceded Chinese territories stolen by Japan, BACK TO JAPAN as opposed to its rightful owners. Now the USA is in a quandary as China is now in a position to rightfully reclaim what was stolen. As is typical with the USA’s historically flawed and immature foreign policies, the USA must now stand behind it’s erroneous and egregious decisions.

    For a comparative case study – take a simple look at the US decision to prop up the extraordinarily and famously corrupt but pseudo-democratic Vietnamese government, which then dragged the USA into an extraordinarily unpopular and indecisive civil war, followed by the shameful withdrawal of the word’s most powerful military force, from a country of farmers, along with the evacuation of the hundreds of thousands of civilians, government, and military who supported the USA’s failed interference in a domestic dispute.

    That the USA made an extremely arrogant unilateral decision to cede the sovereign territory of China to a mutually vanquished enemy is egregious by itself. But to propagate that error through continuous statements of support for that blatant offense is utterly unacceptable and once again reveals the USA’s arrogant and immature attitude towards its sovereign neighbors.

    While the USA a great, powerful, and phenomenal country and people, full of innovations, talents, wonderful people and wonderful things – its foreign policies frequently exhibit serious and pervasive cultural issues of extreme arrogance, self-serving, ivory tower (island) mentality which can only be interpreted as egregiously offensive and aggressive bully-type behaviors to it’s neighbors.

    Japan is merely a reticient neighbor. While most Japanese companies have long-since “buried the hatchet” to make peace for mutual benefit, the government of Japan, with USA support, continues to attempt to cover up its sordid past by essentially blanking out the entire Japanese colonial expansion period at the expense of all it’s asian neighbors. Like the USA, Japan is a wonderful if not beautiful country full of wonderful, innovative, creative people. But it’s foreign polcies – as with the USA, are steeped in self-denial.

    The USA continues to evaluate China and middle east foreign policies based on it’s own rather shallow colonialistic dalliances as opposed to a logical, sane, rational, un-biased analytical view of history in Asia. The USA, as with pre-millenium European countries, has a long sordid history of covert manipulation of governments for personal economic gain. As a case study, most contemporary Americans view Iran as “the great evil”, but their selective view of history neglects to note that the USA supported a tyrannical clan leadership that maintained power through torture, political imprisonment, kidnap, rape, murder, and extortion – for two family generations.

    That’s a clinically bi-polar political agenda – purporting to be a democratic government of the people – promoting righteousness and freedom of speech, rule of law – while propping up and supporting an oil rich country which is the antithesis of American democracy. The USA is clinically bi-polar but publicly refuses to acknowledge it’s foreign policies as utterly insane.

    China should beware when dealing with insane governments, such as the USA and Japan.

    How can China deal with an “emperor who refuses to acknowledge that he’s not wearing any clothes” when in fact we can all see he’s naked?

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