In a visit to Beijing, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel received a “sharp questioning” by Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan on April 8th.
According to Reuters, Hagel “faced questions… about America’s position in bitter territorial disputes with regional allies.”
Minister Chang urged the United States to “restrain” its allies, Japan and the Philippines, as the two defense leaders spoke about their respective positions on foreign policy.
Japan and China have been embroiled in tensions over their bordering maritime regions in the East China Sea as well as the airspace over islands that both claim as their own sovereign territories. China has also had territorial and disputes with the Philippines, among other nations, in the South China Sea.
Following the Defense Minister’s remarks, Hagel was questioned by officers at the National Defense University in China. One of the officers stated his concern that the United States was contributing to the tensions in the region out of fear for the future, in which “China will be too big a challenge for the United States to cope with.”
Hagel stated that there was no interest on the part of the United States to “contain China,” and did not intend to take such a position. However, he repeatedly assured that the U. S. would support its allies in their disputes.
“We have mutual self defense treaties with each of those two countries and we are fully committed to those treaty obligations,” he said.
Chang and Hagel chose to speak positively about improving and deepening military ties, despite many territorial and policy tensions, including controversial spy programs and weapons sales to nations that undermine the international agenda of the other. Both countires have also increased their military presence in the maritime territories and increased naval spending as a result, China considerably so.
Reuters reports: “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.”
Hagel cautioned that military expansion creates a “risk” that there will be a “miscalculation” that could lead to conflict.
“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. But this reality also presents new opportunities for cooperation,” he said.
Chang encouraged the United States to “keep (Japan) within bounds and not to be permissive and supportive,” regarding China’s intense disputes with its Japanese neighbor.
“It is Japan who is being provocative against China,” Chang said in a news conference proceeding his 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.”
This comes at a time when the United States Defense has also been diplomatically embattled with Russia in relation to their claim on the Crimean Peninsula, a territory of Ukraine that has been annexed with Russian support after a Crimean referendum.
The United States has claimed that it does not consider the referendum to be Constitutional under Ukrainian law and that it will not recognize the annexation, while Russian parliament has authorized the incorporation of Crimea into its own sovereign territory.