BEIJING: Tensions between China and the United States were on full display yesterday as Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel faced questions in Beijing about America’s position in bitter territorial disputes with regional US allies.
Chinese Defence 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 Defence 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 defence treaties with each of those two countries,” Hagel said, referring to Japan and the Philippines. “And we are fully committed to those treaty obligations.”
China claims 90 percent of the 3.5 million sq km 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.