News Column

Hagel Meets Chinese Defense Chief

August 19, 2013

Chris Carroll

chuck hagel
Chuck Hagel

China's defense chief said Monday at the Pentagon that while his country is ready work seriously with the United States to promote Asia-Pacific stability, increased U.S. military activity there has "complicated the situation in the region."

Gen. Chang Wanquan, Chinese minister of national defense, was in Washington for meetings with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel -- the first time two had sat down together since both took their positions early this year. The meeting with Hagel followed Chang's visits in recent days to the headquarters of U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii and Northern Command in Colorado.

In a joint press conference at the Pentagon, both spoke of growing military cooperation, with more frequent joint exercises, increased high-level talks and common planning for "nontraditional" humanitarian and anti-piracy military missions.

Chang noted positive momentum in the U.S.-China relationship as the two countries prepare for a joint anti-piracy exercise later this week in the Gulf of Aden, as well as China's planned participation in RIMPAC 2014, the world's largest maritime military exercise.

Chang also announced that Chinese and the U.S. militaries planned to "deepen military archives cooperation" to help the United States' search for troops still unaccounted for after the Korean War.

But when asked about the so-called U.S. "pivot to Asia," a national strategy that calls for more troops, ships, planes and other military assets to be shifted to the Pacific region, Chang expressed Chinese doubts about the enterprise.

"China is a peace-loving nation, and we hope that this strategy does not target a specific country in the region," he said.

U.S. officials, however, have denied that the pivot is an attempt to contain China.

Chang said China would like to see more balance in the U.S. rebalance, an apparent reference to a perceived U.S. favoritism toward Japan, Vietnam and other nations with which China has territorial disputes.

Hagel said at the press conference that while the United States does not take sides on the substance of the disputes, long-standing U.S. policy calls for their peaceful resolution.

Though U.S. officials say the pivot it an economic and diplomatic move as well as military, Chang said many in the region believe that "the military aspect has been highlighted in this comprehensive strategy." There have been more troop deployments, he said, while military exercises with partners that have been rising in both frequency and intensity.

"For any country to make a strategic readjustment, it is imperative to take regional peace and stability in mind and [it] is important to balance the security concerns of different regional countries," he said.

Chang continued to deny Chinese involvement in cyber attacks on U.S. government and industry networks, saying that China itself is a major victim of hacking. He also decried a "double standard," apparently referring to U.S. cyber warfare efforts.

Chang said China always defaults to peaceful resolution of differences, but warned would-be opponents near the end of the press conference.

"However," he said, "no one should fantasize that China would barter away our core interests and no one should underestimate our will and determination in defending our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights."

carroll.chris@stripes.com

Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_

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