US vows to back Japan in China row

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US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera during the 13th Asia Security Summit in Singapore on Saturday. Hagel accused China of “destabilizing actions” in the South China Sea and warned that Washington will not remain passive if the international order is threatened. AFP photo

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera during the 13th Asia Security Summit in Singapore on Saturday. Hagel accused China of “destabilizing actions” in the South China Sea and warned that Washington will not remain passive if the international order is threatened. AFP photo

SINGAPORE: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Beijing on Saturday against “destabilizing actions” in the South China Sea, and backed its regional rival Japan’s plans to take on a more muscular security role in Asia.

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Stressing US commitments to allies and friends in Asia, Hagel called for a peaceful resolution of international disputes and issued a blunt message to China, which was represented by a high-level military delegation at the forum in Singapore.

“In recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea,” Hagel told fellow defense chiefs, military officials, diplomats and security experts attending the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.

He accused China of restricting the Philippines’ access to Scarborough Shoal, putting pressure on Manila’s long-standing presence in Second Thomas Shoal, beginning land reclamation at various locations and moving an oil rig into disputed waters with Vietnam.

Hagel said that while the United States does not take sides on rival claims, “we firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims.”

“The United States will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged,” he said.

China reacted angrily to Hagel’s comments, with Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Wang Guanzhong describing them as baseless, and further condemning him for making them in public.

“This speech is full of hegemony, full of incitement, threats, intimidation,” Wang was quoted as saying by a reporter from state broadcaster China Central Television.

“Moreover [it]is public, several times criticizing China by name, and these kinds of accusations are completely without basis, without reason,” Wang said. The military official is due to make his own speech on Sunday.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also pledged to support efforts by Vietnam and the Philippines to resolve their territorial disputes with China, making a veiled criticism of the Asian powerhouse.

In a speech at the Asia Security Summit in Singapore, Abe said the rule of law is what makes the Asia-Pacific region stable, adding countries should adhere to international law, avoid resorting to force or coercion, and resolve conflicts peacefully.

“My government strongly supports the efforts by the Philippines calling for a resolution  to the dispute in the South China Sea,” Abe said. “We likewise support Vietnam in its efforts to resolve issues through dialogue.”

Manila calls the South China Sea West Philippine Sea.

Abe vowed late on Friday that his country would play a larger role in promoting peace in Asia, and called for the rule of law to be upheld in the region.

Laying out a vision of Tokyo as a counterweight to the growing might of China, Abe offered Japan’s help to regional partners “to ensure security of the seas and skies.”

He said Japan and the US stood ready to bolster security cooperation with Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

“Japan intends to play an even greater and more proactive role than it has until now in making peace in Asia and the world something more certain,” he said in a keynote speech at an annual Asia security forum in Singapore.

Abe said Japan will provide 10 new coast guard patrol ships to the Philippines, which has one of Asia’s most poorly equipped security forces.

He said three such vessels have already been provided to Indonesia and Vietnam may receive similar assistance.

Bitter disputes
Tensions have recently flared up in the South China Sea, claimed almost entirely by China, which has lately taken bold steps to enforce what it says are its historical rights.
Four Southeast Asian states—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam—claim parts of the sea, with Manila and Hanoi being the most vocal in opposing China’s claims. Taiwan is the sixth claimant.

In the latest outbreak of tensions, Vietnam accused Chinese warships Thursday of pointing weapons at their vessels during an escalating standoff near an oil rig in contested waters. There have also been ramming incidents involving boats from both sides lately.

The Philippines and China are locked in a bitter dispute over the control of islets and reefs in the sea, which straddles vital shipping lanes and is believed to sit atop vast gas deposits.

China is also in dispute with Japan over islands in the East Sea, which Tokyo calls Senkaku and Beijing refers to as Diaoyu.

Last year, China declared an air defense identification zone in the East Sea, including over the outcrops, which are under Japan’s administration.

Greater role for Japan
In his speech, Hagel reiterated that the United States opposes “any effort by any nation to restrict overflight or freedom of navigation, whether from military or civilian vessels, from countries big or small.”

Restating a US declaration, he said “the Senkaku Islands fall under our mutual defense treaty with Japan” and backed Tokyo’s plans to play a greater role in maintaining security in Asia.

AFP and PNA/Kyodo

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4 Comments

  1. Pete Gabriel on

    China is out of control. Japan and the US is right in condemning this move by China. More should be done. The Philippines do not have a prayer against China. Here is the only two choices for PH, one is to appease China and become a Chinese province, the other is beg for the US to become a territory of the US. I would choose the later.

  2. It is not about the people but is about its government. Chinese government especially those in power and in military, had stolen enough already from its own (Chinese) people and country, and now they are working on doing the same to other people of other much weaker countries (militarily) in the neighborhood and have started the bullying. The whole world must know and worry that as this government, while gaining more and more power will tell all lies and steal all the resources that they could steal helping themselves to keep in power for their own selfish interest. It is about time for all peace-loving nations along with the many peace-loving Chinese people to join hands and stop the greedy monster from gaining more weight preparing itself to do more harm to the peace and stability of the world – Much thanks to Japan for the initiative to stop the monster and to the US for supporting such an initiative.

  3. Carlos Martin on

    It has been proven ineffective for the Philippines to insists on the Code of Conduct to be observed in the South China Sea, by not making improvements in the islets claimed by the Philippines. Other claimants are making their own improvements in the Spratly islets they claim, and not following the Code of Conduct. It’s the right of the Philippines to improve the islets claimed by her for the sake of the welfare of its citizens. It is the Philippines’ obligation to safeguard and improve the welfare of its citizens stationed in these islets. If land reclamation for these islets is needed, then do it, for the benefit of these people stationed there. The Ayungin reef should have some land reclamation done with better houses for these soldiers. The rusty ship is not fit for a condusive living. The suggestion of Carlos Celdran to put some plants in the ship is not logical; where will they get the water to water these plants.

  4. It will be foolish for China to play power game in the Pacific. They should not wait for Japan to nuclear arm itself. Japan has large amount of enrich plutonium. Japan can produce nuclear armaments in just few months. Is China ready to go to war? I don’t think so. Filipinos looked down at Chinese during Spanish era. Chinese are cowards. For them making money is the most important in their life.