Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel got an earful yesterday from his Chinese hosts on the PRC’s ambitions in the South China Sea. Hagel appeared at a joint press conference with General Chang Wanquan, Hagel’s counterpart in the PRC, and got an earful according to the New York Times:
The minister, Gen. Chang Wanquan, affirmed that China would not be first to launch an attack over the territorial dispute. But he accused Japan of “confusing the right with the wrong” in its assertion of control over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, which are known as the Senkaku in Japan and as the Diaoyu in China.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands,” General Chang said. He added that on the issue of what he called “territorial sovereignty,” China would “make no compromise, no concession, no treaty.”
He continued, “The Chinese military can assemble as soon as summoned, fight any battle and win.”
The good news is that Mr. Hagel did not back down:
At one point, Mr. Hagel appeared impatient, wagging his finger. “The Philippines and Japan are longtime allies of the United States,” he said. “We have mutual self-defense treaties with each of those countries” he continued, adding that the United States was “fully committed to those treaty obligations.”
Mr. Hagel accused China of adding to tensions in the region by unilaterally declaring an air defense zone in the East China Sea with “no collaboration, no consultation.” Such moves, he warned, could “eventually get to dangerous conflict.”
The bad news is that Mr. Hagel’s budget does not equip the United States with enough ships to deter Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. That aggression is detailed in the wonderfully reported and written Asia’s Cauldron, the new book by Robert D. Kaplan, who was my guest last week. The transcript of my conversation with Kaplan from last week is here. No one who hear the interview, or read the transcript or better yet the book itself will have been surprised by the sparks at yesterday’s press conference.