The annual IISS-sponsored Shangri La Dialogue is taking place this weekend in Singapore, and the major American, Chinese and Japanese delegates are sparring over contending visions of Asian security. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke on Saturday and directly accused China, by name, of provoking regional conflict. He vowed that the Obama Administration would not “look the other way” as China “in recent months has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea.” He added, “We firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims… All nations of the region,” he continued, “including China, have a choice: to unite, and recommit to a stable regional order, or to walk away from that commitment and risk the peace and security that has benefited millions of people.”
During his own keynote speech, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took matters one step further. In line with his recently announced “reinterpretation” of the Japanese Constitution to allow for joint self-defense military operations, Abe offered to play a more “proactive” role in regional security by providing patrol ships, training and military surveillance equipment to any countries feeling intimidated by China. ”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. Japan will offer its utmost support for efforts by ASEAN member countries to ensure the security of the seas and skies and rigorously maintain freedom of navigation and overflight.” Abe announced that Japan had already agreed to sell 10 patrol ships to the Philippines and was working on a similar agreement with Vietnam. ”By doing so, the bonds between the people on the Japan side and the recipient side invariably become stronger.” Abe also cited special priority on building military cooperation with India and Australia.
In response to Secretary Hagel’s blunt language, Chinese officers strongly countered in the question session afterwards. Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu directly challenged Hagel, asking how it was possible for the U.S. to keep claiming that it does not take sides in territorial disputes while simultaneously saying it backs Japan’s claims under treaty agreements. The General went on to assert that China’s claim of an ADIZ in the East China Sea was fully legal. ”What international organization or what countries did the U.S. consult with before it set up” air defense identification zones? ”What international law has China violated in setting up a ADIZ in the East China Sea?” Another participant, Gen. Zhu Chenghu, told the Wall Street Journal that “the Americans are making very, very important strategic mistakes right now” in their approach to China. He accused Hagel of hypocricy in assessing the regional landscape, promoting the idea that “whatever the Chinese do is illegal, and whatever the Americans do is right.” The U.S., he said, should “treat China as an equal partner, instead of as an enemy. If you take China as the enemy, China will absolutely become the enemy of the U.S..” On the other hand, “if the Americans take China as a friend, China will be a very loyal friend; and if they take China as a partner, China will be a very cooperative partner.” Gen. Zhu told the Wall Street Journal that the “Chinese are not so stupid” as to believe that Washington genuinely wants to work with China. ”Their actions don’t match their words; that’s the problem. If you look at what the U.S. is doing on China’s periphery–things such as reconnaisance, exercises, massive deployments, strengthening military alliances, taking sides on territorial disputes–these things are not good at all.”
Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong, the deputy chief of staff of the PLA, told CCTV in an interview from the Singapore conference, that Hagel’s speech “is full of hegemony, full of incitement, threats, intimidation. This speech is completely non-constructive and moreover is public, several times criticising China by name, and tese kinds of accusations are completely without basis, without reason.” Gen. Wang is scheduled to deliver a keynote address to the Shangri La Dialogue on Sunday.