General Fang Fenghui, the Chief of the General Staff of the PLA, arrived in Washington, DC today for formal meetings with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey. According to Dempsey and Fang’s comments during their joint press conference, they held extensive discussions on the military relationship, including counterterrorism, the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The latter issue was on everyone’s minds, as Vietnam and China are embroiled in tensions over a Chinese oil rig near the Paracel Islands. Popular opposition has even sparked anti-China riots in Vietnam. The U.S. and China traded barbs in statements about who is to blame for the current situation. The U.S. State Department, including Secretary John Kerry, has called China’s placement of the oil rig “provocative.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying fired back, saying “It is nothing but the wrong words and actions made by the U.S. side on maritime issues that have emboldened some countries to take provocative actions.”
The topic came under intense discussion at the joint press conference. In response to a reporter’s question, Fang repeated China’s official stance that the oil rig is within China’s waters and thus the activity is normal and legitimate. Fang also added some interesting details, such as that the placement of the oil rig had been “carefully selected” to minimize the chance of a dispute. According to Fang, China was surprised and dismayed at the reaction. He pointed out that other countries (referencing Vietnam) have previously drilled in the region without a similar backlash.