Hagel, Chang air differences over disputed islands

LOLITA C. BALDOR Associated Press Published:

BEIJING (AP) -- The defense chiefs of China and the U.S. are facing off over Beijing's escalating territorial disputes in the region, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel telling China it doesn't have the right to unilaterally establish an air defense zone over disputed islands with no consultation.

And he said on Tuesday that America will protect Japan in a dispute with China, as laid out in U.S. treaty obligations.

Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan said his country will not take the initiative to stir up troubles with Japan, but Beijing is ready to use its military if needed to safeguard its territory. And he warned that the U.S. must "stay vigilant" against Japan's actions and "not be permissive and supportive" of Tokyo.

The U.S. has criticized Beijing's recent declaration of an air defense zone over a large swath of the East China Sea, including disputed islands controlled by Japan.

In their remarks, the two men aired their countries' well-known positions about the territorial disputes, although doing it for the first time in China, shoulder to shoulder after nearly two hours of meetings here.

"Every nation has a right to establish an air defense zone, but not a right to do it unilaterally with no collaboration, no consultation. That adds to tensions, misunderstandings, and could eventually add to, and eventually get to, dangerous conflict," said Hagel, poking his finger toward the television cameras and photographers at the back of the room, as shutters clicked.

For his part, Chang said China stands ready to resolve the disputes diplomatically. But he made it clear that China is always ready to respond to threats.

On the issue of territorial sovereignty, Chang said, "We will make no compromise, no concession, no trading, not even a tiny ... violation is allowed."

On a broader scale, the meeting focused on how the U.S. and China can build stronger ties, in the wake of years of frosty relations over Beijing's military buildup, persistent cyberattacks against U.S. government agencies and private industry, and aggressive Chinese territorial claims in the East China Sea.

Beijing's recent declaration of an air defense zone over a large swath of the East China Sea, including disputed islands controlled by Japan, has raised complaints from the U.S., deepening concerns that it could spark a confrontation.

Washington has refused to recognize the zone or follow China's demands that its aircraft file flight plans with Beijing's Defense Ministry and heed Chinese instructions. China has warned of unspecified retaliatory measures against aircraft that do not comply, but has so far taken no action.

Hagel also said the U.S. and China must be more open with each other about their cyber capabilities, saying that greater openness "reduces the risk that misunderstanding and misperception could lead to miscalculation."

He pointed to the ongoing threat from North Korea, which recently raised the prospect of additional missile and nuclear tests. And Hagel said the U.S. and China have a shared interest "in achieving a verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

In recent weeks the North has conducted a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches that are considered acts of protest against annual ongoing springtime military exercises by Seoul and Washington. North Korea says the exercises are rehearsals for invasion.

"Our vision is a future where our militaries can work closely together on a range of challenges, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. However, to reach this objective, we must be candid about issues where we disagree," Hagel said.

He also said the two countries have agreed to conduct a joint military medical exercise, although not date was set.

And Hagel said they will set up new formal procedures that will allow their armies to better communicate and also set up an Asia-Pacific Security Dialogue between the assistant defense secretary for the Asia Pacific and China's director of the Ministry of National Defense Foreign Affairs Office so they also can more easily exchange views.

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