Beijing will not act first to “stir up troubles” over island disputes with neighbors, China’s defense minister said yesterday at a meeting with US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
China and Japan are embroiled in a bitter row over disputed islands in the East China Sea controlled by Tokyo — the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), which are also claimed by Taiwan — with the tensions raising concerns about the possibility of a clash between the Asian powers.
“We will not take the initiative to stir up troubles,” Chinese Minister of Defense General Chang Wanquan (常萬全) told a joint news conference in Beijing, a day after officers allowed Hagel to tour the country’s first aircraft carrier, a rare move by the normally secretive People’s Liberation Army.
“China has indisputable sovereignty” over the islands in dispute with Japan, Chang said, calling territorial sovereignty a “core issue” on which “we will make no compromise.”
However, he added that China was ready to resolve disputes peacefully “with the countries involved.”
In November last year, Beijing unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, including the disputed islands, prompting condemnation by Washington.
Beijing requires aircraft flying through its ADIZ to identify themselves and maintain communication with Chinese authorities, but the zone is not a claim of sovereignty.
Hagel said countries have a right to air defense identification zones, but said setting them up without consulting other governments was risky as it could lead to “misunderstandings” and “eventually get to a dangerous conflict.”
Beijing is involved in disputes in the South China Sea, as well as the East China Sea, and Hagel reiterated that the US takes no position on territorial issues, wanting the disagreements resolved “peacefully.”
However, he added that the “Philippines and Japan are longtime allies of the United States.”
Washington had treaties with both countries and “we are fully committed to those treaty obligations,” he said.
US officials said the visit to the carrier marked a promising step by the Chinese, but the two sides remained deeply divided over the regional territorial disputes, the threat posed by North Korea and cyberspying, with each side trading accusations of digital espionage.
In his talks, which followed a visit to Japan, Hagel urged authorities to pursue a more open dialogue about cyberwarfare.
“Greater openness about cyber reduces the risk that misunderstanding and misperception could lead to miscalculation,” Hagel said.
“We have tried to be as open and transparent on that as we can be. And we would like to see them be able to reciprocate,” said a senior US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
However, the Chinese so far had not “reciprocated,” the official said, confirming a New York Times report.
The US is investing heavily in a new cyberwarfare command, and suspects PLA units are behind an increasing number of digital attacks on government and US corporate networks.
However, China accuses the US of waging its own cyberoffensive after revelations of far-reaching electronic espionage by the US National Security Agency, including media reports that the spy service hacked into telecoms giant Huawei’s network.
During his Asia tour Hagel has stressed that as a “great power” China has to live up to its “responsibilities,” suggesting Beijing should respect its smaller neighbors and adopt a more transparent approach in its relations with the US military.