BEIJING (AP) — In a face-off between the defense chiefs of China and the U.S., Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday that his country does not have the right to unilaterally establish an air defense zone over disputed islands with no consultation.
And he said America will protect Japan, the Philippines and other allies locked in disputes 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 warned that Beijing is ready to use its military if needed to safeguard its territory. And he said the U.S. must “stay vigilant” against Japan’s actions and “not be permissive and supportive” of Tokyo.
Washington has criticized Beijing’s recent declaration of an air defense zone over a large swath of the East China Sea, including disputed remote islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China. Hagel was in Japan earlier this week, reassuring its leaders of ongoing U.S. support.
In their remarks Tuesday, Hagel and Chang largely aired their countries’ well-known positions about the territorial disputes, although it was the first time it was done in China, shoulder-to-shoulder, after nearly two hours of meetings.
“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, pointing his finger toward television cameras and photographers at the back of the room, as shutters clicked.
Chang said China stands ready to resolve the disputes diplomatically. But he made it clear that China is always ready to respond militarily to threats.