US defence chief Chuck Hagel challenged on issues including Japan and Taiwan

US defence chief warned about arms sales to Taipei and his call for Beijing to 'respect neighbours'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2014, 2:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 5:35pm

The Chinese and US defence chiefs exchanged fire on a range of thorny regional and global security issues at their first official meeting in Beijing yesterday.

Defence minister Chang Wanquan said his discussion with his visiting US counterpart Chuck Hagel was "candid" and "constructive".

He said their talks covered topics including regional territorial disputes and cybersecurity.

Watch: US defence chief holds talks with Chinese counterpart

Chang also urged Washington to stop a bill that reaffirms America's commitment to Taiwan and calls for continued arms sales to the island.

He said Beijing was "strongly dissatisfied" with the move and firmly opposed it.

Hagel arrived on Monday and was given a rare tour of China's first aircraft carrier the Liaoning in Qingdao harbour.

But that welcoming gesture made way for a more hardline approach from Chang, who warned Washington to respect Beijing's core interests as the US shifts its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region.

"The China-US relationship is not comparable to US-Russia ties in the cold war," Chang said at a joint press conference. "China's development cannot be contained by anyone."

On the territorial dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, Chang warned that China's armed forces were "ready to assemble at the first call" and were "capable of winning". He warned the US to "stay vigilant" over Japan.

Hagel told Chang at the press conference that Washington had a treaty obligation to protect Japan in any dispute with China, and denounced Beijing's declaration of an air defence zone over the East China Sea in November.

He said: "Every nation has a right to establish an air defence zone, but not a right to do it unilaterally with no collaboration, no consultation.

Every nation has a right to establish an air defence zone, but not a right to do it unilaterally

"That adds to tensions, misunderstandings, and could eventually add to, and eventually get to, dangerous conflict."

Hagel also called on Beijing to be more transparent about its cyber capabilities. But Chang said China was already being transparent and co-operative.

In another open confrontation, a deputy chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, Fan Changlong, told Hagel that Beijing was not happy with his remarks in Japan last week when he urged Beijing to respect its neighbours.

"I can tell you, frankly, your remarks made at the Asean defence ministers meeting and to the Japanese politicians were tough and with a clear attitude.

"The Chinese people, including myself, are dissatisfied with such remarks," Fan was quoted as saying by Xinhua at the opening of talks with Hagel.

In a positive gesture, both sides promised to step up a regular dialogue to minimise the risk of misunderstandings. Ni Lexiong , a Shanghai-based navy expert, said: "Both sides are not shying away from problems.

"The process may be tough, but it is better than pretending there is no problem."

The risk of conflict between China and the US was heightened in December when an American guided missile cruiser, the USS Cowpens, took evasive action to avoid colliding with a Chinese landing vessel in the South China Sea during exercises involving the Liaoning.

Zhu Feng , a security specialist at Peking University, said: "The two nations need to have mechanisms for deciding what action should be taken when their ships or aircrafts are getting close."

Additional reporting by Associated Press