A war of words broke out at a regional security forum yesterday as a senior Chinese military official yesterday lashed out at the United States' and Japan's "duet" act in provoking Beijing.
In a fierce rebuttal of criticism by the US and Japan against China's recent moves in its surrounding waters, Wang Guanzhong, the People's Liberation Army deputy chief of general staff, told regional defence heads and experts at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that China only responded to conflicts over sovereignty disputes and was never the instigator.
This year's forum has highlighted tensions over China's maritime sovereignty disputes with its neighbours. Public remarks by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel have particularly irked Beijing.
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"Abe and Hagel's speeches gave me a feeling that they were singing a duet. They supported and encouraged each other [and] used their speeches at the Shangri-La Dialogue to instigate provocations against China," Wang said.
Wang said Abe's speech was full of indirect criticisms of China while Hagel was more direct. "I would prefer Hagel's approach, if you have anything to say, say it directly," Wang said.
This followed Saturday's blunt exchange of words between Wang and Hagel, who in his speech said Washington would not "look the other way" if Beijing sought to restrict air traffic and freedom of navigation at sea. Wang responded by saying Hagel's speech was full of hegemony and threats.
Japan responded on Monday when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo: “We believe the Chinese senior official made claims based on mistake of facts and defamed our country.”
Suga said the Japanese delegation in Singapore immediately made a “strong protest” against the remarks to the Chinese side.
Tensions at this year's forum were particularly high as China's role in regional security was questioned in almost all panels over the weekend.
While the dialogue could help those countries involved better understand each other's policies, the candid exchange of words was unlikely to have helped ease tensions in the region, said Christian Le Miere, a senior fellow with the Britain-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
"In the short term criticisms and sharp words between the two sides doesn't necessary bring these countries closer together," Le Miere said.
"It can be difficult to harmonise their views."