During his recent China visit, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel reportedly got an earful from his Chinese counterpart and others on his country’s perceived meddling in regional affairs. While maintaining necessary courtesies during such visits, his Chinese hosts did not hold off from saying their piece. China’s Minister of Defence, Chang Wanquan, said that Beijing was prepared to use its military if needed to safeguard its territory, referring to China’s sovereignty disputes with Japan over a cluster of rocks in the East China Sea and with the Philippines in the South China Sea. Both are the US’s security allies. He cautioned the US to “stay vigilant” against Japan’s actions and “not be permissive and supportive” of Tokyo.
Beijing was unhappy that, while in Japan just before his China visit, Hagel had described Beijing’s promulgation of its air defence identification zone over the East China Sea as provocative and unilateral. The vice-chairman of China’s Military Commission personally told Hagel that China was “dissatisfied” with his remarks in Japan. Despite China’s dissatisfaction with his remarks, Hagel repeated and elaborated the US’s position as he told his Chinese hosts, “Every nation has a right to establish an air defence zone but not a right to do it unilaterally with no collaboration, no consultation.” He added, “That adds to tensions, misunderstandings and could eventually add to, and eventually get to, dangerous conflict.” This is the real fear in the Asia-Pacific, with a spark lighting a prairie fire.