Reiterating its stance on the status quo in the South China Sea, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the U.S. will not tolerate any attempts to change the situation in that region.
“The United States stands firmly against any coercive attempts to alter the status quo,” said the U.S. defense secretary at the Asia Security Summit in Singapore on Saturday.
The defense secretary was apparently referring to China’s recent assertiveness over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which is administered Japan, and the islands claimed by several South Asian countries including Taiwan in the South China Sea.
“In the South China Sea, the United States continues to call on all claimants to exercise restraint as they publicly pledged in 2002, and to seek peaceful means to resolve these incidents,” said Chuck Hagel.
The U.S. defense secretary urged all the defense ministers and officials at the summit to solve the disputes “in a manner that maintains peace and security, adheres to international law, and protects unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as freedom of navigation and over flight.”
However, Chuck Hagel made it clear that the U.S. does not take any particular position on sovereignty over the Senkakus or in the South China Sea.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama are scheduled to meet next week and the two leaders are likely to discuss a range of topics including cyber security and military issues.
While addressing the ministers and officials from different countries, Chuck Hagel also touched topics like the recent nuclear missile tests by North Korea.
“The United States will not stand by while North Korea seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States,” said Chuck Hagel.
Calling North Korea’s recent actions as dangerous and a threat to its neighboring countries, the defense secretary said, “No country should conduct ‘business as usual’ with a North Korea that threatens its neighbors.”
The U.S. defense secretary warned Saturday the United States opposes any forced change in the situations surrounding the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and islands claimed by some Southeast Asian countries and Taiwan in the South China Sea.
“The United States stands firmly against any coercive attempts to alter the status quo,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a speech at the Asia Security Summit in Singapore, an apparent reference to China’s recent assertiveness over the Senkakus and disputed islands in the South China Sea such as the Spratlys.
Commenting on the tensions over the Senkakus, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the ministers shared the view that it is important to address the issue “through dialogue in accordance with law, not by force.”
Hagel and Onodera had discussed the Senkaku Islands dispute earlier on Saturday with Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith.
The U.S. defense secretary also expressed concern about cybersecurity, saying the Chinese government and military are apparently linked to a growing threat of cyber-intrusions and urging Beijing to cooperate with Washington to tackle this problem.
He further suggested the establishment of “international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace” in partnership with China and other countries.
Hagel made the calls ahead of a June 7-8 summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in California that will be their first meeting since Xi became head of state in March.
The annual Singapore forum, which opened Friday evening for a three-day run, brings together defense ministers and officials mainly from the Asia-Pacific.
Participants are watching what Chinese delegation head Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, will say about the U.S. “rebalance” toward Asia, about North Korea and about Beijing’s territorial claims in the East and South China seas.
China is cautious about Washington’s strategic re-engagement with the Asia-Pacific region after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, suspecting it could be a U.S. attempt to contain a rising, assertive China.
Speaking later, Japanese Defense Minister Onodera said his country “welcomes” and “supports” U.S. rebalance toward Asia to ensure regional stability, and that Tokyo will maintain the status quo in the Senkaku Islands, which it has managed for decades.
Using its growing influence, China wants to address issues involving the Senkakus, which it calls Diaoyu, and the South China Sea bilaterally with relevant countries without involvement from the United States or other outside forces.
The United States takes no particular position on sovereignty over the Senkakus or in the South China Sea, but it strongly believes incidents and disputes should be settled “in a manner that maintains peace and security, adheres to international law, and protects unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as freedom of navigation and overflight,” Hagel said.
“In the South China Sea, the United States continues to call on all claimants to exercise restraint as they publicly pledged in 2002, and to seek peaceful means to resolve these incidents,” he said.
The Pentagon chief said he is inviting defense ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to Hawaii next year for what will be the first U.S.-hosted meeting of ASEAN defense chiefs to discuss “a shared vision for a dynamic, peaceful and secure future for the region.”
In a meeting later with Philippine defense chief Voltaire Gazmin, Hagel said the United States is seeking a greater visibility in the country.
“He talked about increased rotational presence in the Philippines. We’re working on that, see how this can be worked out, trying to operationalize the increased rotational presence with high-value, high-impact exercises in the Philippines,” Gazmin said after the meeting.
Since the removal of U.S. military forces based in the Philippines in 1991 and 1992, the U.S. military’s presence has been limited to short-term visits and rotations under a Visiting Forces Agreement reached in 1998.
Earlier, in his address to the summit, Hagel said, “The United States will not stand by while North Korea seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States.”
And he vowed to “significantly bolster” missile defense throughout the Pacific to protect the United States and its allies from North Korea’s “dangerous provocations.”
“No country should conduct ‘business as usual’ with a North Korea that threatens its neighbors,” he said.