SINGAPORE – The U.S. and Japan called for increased dialogue with China to prevent miscalculations in waterways vital to world trade as territorial disputes raise tensions across Asia.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore on Saturday that Washington would resist “any coercive attempts to alter the status quo” in seas off China’s coasts, including the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Japan, a U.S. ally, is seeking to create a National Security Council so it can respond quickly to emergencies, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told the forum. He called for neighboring countries to establish a maritime coordination mechanism at the “earliest possible timing” to prevent crises over incidents at sea.
Hagel also issued a stern warning to China over alleged cyber-attacks. “The United States has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyber-intrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military,” he said.
Hagel pressed Beijing to adhere to “international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace,” while acknowledging that the establishment of a joint cybersecurity working group was a positive step in fostering U.S.-China dialogue on such issues.
While he is not the first U.S. official to publicly blame China for computer-based attacks that steal data from U.S. government and corporate networks, he delivered the rebuke in China’s backyard, with members of Beijing’s government in the audience.
The U.S. defense chief also sought to reassure Beijing that moves by Washington to shift military resources to Asia do not amount to a containment policy.
“How can the U.S. assure China of our intentions — that’s really the whole point behind closer military-to-military relationships,” Hagel said in response to a question from a Chinese delegate at the event hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “We don’t want miscalculations and misunderstandings and misinterpretations, and the only way you do that is you talk to each other.”
Hagel was challenged during a question-and-answer session at the forum Saturday by Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu, director of the Center for China-America Defense Relations at the Academy of Military Science within the People’s Liberation Army.
“U.S. government officials have on several occasions clarified that the rebalance is not against China,” Yao told Hagel. “However, China is not convinced.”
Hagel is aiming to balance concerns among U.S. allies about China’s territorial ambitions against a need to cooperate with President Xi Jinping’s government in halting North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. President Barack Obama is due to meet Xi in California on Friday amid disputes over cyber-espionage, Iran’s weapons program and Syria’s civil war.