The United States warned China on Saturday to halt destabilising actions in Asia, as Washington and its allies sought to boost defence cooperation in the face of what Japan called an “increasingly severe” security environment.
Using unusually strong language, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told an Asia-Pacific security forum that the United States was committed to its geopolitical rebalance to the region and “will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged”.
“In recent months, China has undertaken destabilising, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea,” he said in the speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
Hagel said the United States took no position on the merits of rival territorial claims in the region, but added: “We firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims.”
Hagel later held a bilateral meeting with the deputy chief of staff of the Chinese army, Lieutenant-General Wang Guanzhong, who expressed surprise at his comments.
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“You were very candid this morning, and to be frank, more than our expectations,” Wang said.
In Beijing, President Xi Jinping said China would not initiate aggressive action in the South China Sea but would respond if others did, the official Xinhua news agency reported.