U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
today spelled out a series of Chinese actions in parts of the
disputed South China Sea and said they were destabilizing the
While China has said it wants a “sea of peace, friendship
and cooperation,” in recent months it “has undertaken
destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the
South China Sea,” Hagel said in prepared remarks at an annual
security conference in Singapore.
“It has restricted access to the Scarborough Reef; put
pressure on the long-standing Philippine presence at the Second
Thomas Shoal; begun land reclamation activities at multiple
locations; and moved an oil rig into disputed waters near the
Paracel Islands” off the coast of Vietnam, Hagel said, listing
for the first time Chinese infractions in the region that are
alarming Southeast Asian nations.
The stepped-up U.S. comments follow Vietnamese Prime
Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s appeal for a “stronger voice” from
the U.S. against China after clashes between coast guard vessels
near the rig placed in contested waters. The Philippines,
dwarfed militarily by China, has sought support from the U.S.
and the United Nations to counter China’s encroachment into
shoals off its coast.
Under President Xi Jinping, China has taken a more
assertive approach to its territorial claims. During a visit to
Beijing in April, Hagel was told by his counterpart, General
Chang Wanquan, that China would make “no compromise, no
concessions” in disputes with Japan and the Philippines.
Standing alongside Hagel at a briefing last month, Chang
said “the Chinese military can assemble as soon as summoned,
fight any battle and win.” China can’t be contained, Chang
said, and the Pacific is “huge enough” to hold both countries.
In Singapore today, Hagel said the U.S. “will not look the
other way when fundamental principles of international order are
being challenged” including moves by China to restrict
overflight or freedom of navigation.
U.S.-China military ties have been tested after the U.S.
Justice Department indicted five Chinese military officials on
charges of economic espionage linked to computer hacking of U.S.
nuclear power, metals and solar companies. China has suspended
the U.S.-China Cyber Working Group.
Even so, “we will continue to raise cyber issues with our
Chinese counterparts, because dialogue is essential for reducing
the risk of miscalculation and escalation in cyberspace,” Hagel
Speaking yesterday at the Shangri-La security forum, former
Chinese deputy foreign minister Fu Ying said China and the U.S.
need to “work very hard to try to understand each other.”
“There is a tendency that we misread each other, that we
misunderstand each other,” said Fu, chairwoman of the Foreign
Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress.
Taking questions after his speech today, Hagel was quizzed
by Major-General Yao Yunzhu, director of the Center for China-America Defense Relations at the Academy of Military Science
within the Peopleâs Liberation Army, about the U.S. stance over
East China Sea islands claimed by both China and Japan. Yao
asked if recent U.S. statements about the islands being covered
by its defense treaty with Japan were a threat of coercion or
“I thought I made America’s position clear in my remarks
about the position we take on disputed territories,” Hagel
replied. “In fact, I think I repeated our position a number of
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has moved to toughen Japan’s
defense posture in the face of the territorial spat with China.
Abe has repeatedly accused China of trying to change the status
quo by force, and yesterday reiterated offers to Southeast Asian
allies of military equipment and training.
“Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of
the countries of Asean as they work to ensure the security of
the seas and the skies,” he said in a speech at the forum,
referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian
China claims much of the South China Sea under its “nine-dash line” map, first published in 1947, which extends hundreds
of miles south from China’s Hainan Island to equatorial waters
off the coast of Borneo, taking in some of the world’s busiest
shipping lanes. Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines also claim
parts of the sea.
Vietnam has prepared evidence for a lawsuit challenging
China’s claim and is considering the best time to file it, Dung
said yesterday in an interview.
If open conflict were to erupt in the South China Sea,
“there will be no victor,” Dung warned, saying that two-thirds
of global maritime trade passes through shipping lanes in the
area. “Everyone will lose,” he said. “The whole world economy
will be hurt and damaged immeasurably.”
Malaysia Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he is
increasingly concerned about tensions in the waters.
“However, inflamed rhetoric and mutual recrimination will
not do any country any good,” he told the forum in Singapore.
World War 1, he said, “was started by sheer accident. That we
must avoid for our region as the world focuses in this area.”
Vietnam said China rammed one of its fishing boats on May
26 near the oil rig. The sinking happened two days after Chinese
fighter jets flew within tens of meters of Japanese surveillance
planes in the East China Sea.
China blamed the boat-sinking on Vietnam and accused Japan
of infringing on a no-fly zone it set up for its first bilateral
naval exercises with Russia in the East China Sea.
Japanese and Chinese coast guard vessels have tailed one
another around the uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in
Japan and Diaoyu in China, since Japan bought three of them from
a private Japanese owner late in 2012. Abe has not held a summit
with China since taking office almost 18 months ago.
While the U.S. has repeatedly said its obligation to defend
Japan extends to the disputed islands, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a speech on defense policy this week that the
armed forces can’t be “the primary component of our
Hagel today repeated the U.S. pledge to its strategic and
economic rebalancing to Asia even as crises in Europe and the
Middle East capture America’s attention.
The U.S. remains “committed to ensuring that any
reductions in U.S. defense spending do not come at the expense
of America’s commitments in the Asia-Pacific,” Hagel said.
“The rebalance is not a goal, promise, or a vision – it is a
To contact the reporters on this story:
Gopal Ratnam in Washington at
Sharon Chen in Singapore at
Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Rosalind Mathieson at
Hagel Says China"s Actions in South China Sea Destabilizing