The United States has scrapped a plan for one of its navy ships to join a fleet review in China after key ally Japan was not invited, US officials said, days before Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel begins a trip to Japan and China.
The US had been invited to participate in the fleet review - essentially a parade of ships - as part of activities linked to the Western Pacific Naval Symposium, which is being held this month in Qingdao.
It will still participate in the naval symposium and observe the review, one US official said. "We're not going to put a ship in the actual parade; we'll observe the parade," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said the decision was taken last week and came at Japan's request.
Itsunori Onodera, Japan's defence minister, said yesterday that Japan would take part in the naval symposium, which is held regularly, but confirmed that it had not been invited to the fleet review.
"Japan is responding calmly, but it is unfortunate that China took such approach," he said.
The US decision was another sign of troubled Sino-Japanese ties, chilled by a territorial dispute over a group of East China Sea islets.
Yet Chinese experts said the snub would have little impact on the Sino-US military exchanges.
Jin Canrong, a professor at Renmin University's school of international relations, said: "China may be unhappy, but given the increasing military exchanges [between the two countries] in the past year, the influence should not be big."
Wu Xinbo, a professor at Fudan University's centre for American studies, said it was only a gesture by the US and could not place any pressure on China.
"China stands firm in dealing with Japanese issues, and China will not change its attitude towards Japan because of the decision," Wu said.
The US is playing a delicate balancing act before Hagel's visit next week, by trying to reassure Tokyo of Washington's commitment to its security while seeking better ties with Beijing.
"I told the ministers that the United States is increasingly concerned about the instability arising from the territorial disputes in the South China Sea," said Hagel yesterday, as he urged all sides to avoid resorting to the "threat of force, or intimidation, or coercion".
"The South China Sea, East China Sea - we have differences there. We talk about those differences," Hagel said at the end of three days of informal talks with ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He denied the talks were held to contain China.
Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that China had asked to operate under Australian command when it takes part in a major international military exercise led by the US later this year.
Until recent years, China rarely took part in international military exercises and the newspaper said it was the first time the PLA would operate under Western command in such a drill.
Australian Defence Minister David Johnston has welcomed China's involvement in the Rim of the Pacific exercise involving more than 20 nations.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse