Top Chinese military officials used harsh words to counter the U.S.'s criticism of Beijing’s recent moves in disputed regions of the South China Sea, and warned the U.S. of serious consequences if it continued to interfere in regional issues.
Speaking on Sunday at a three-day summit between senior military leaders in Singapore, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong, the deputy chief of general staff for the Chinese military, criticized U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s earlier statements, which described China's recent actions in the South China Sea as “destabilizing, unilateral actions” while other senior officials also criticized U.S. interference in the issue, and warned that “strategic mistakes” by U.S. leaders could lead to hostilities between the world's two largest economies.
“Secretary Hagel, in this kind of public space with many people, openly criticized China without reason,” Wang, who also used the forum to censure Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said, according to the New York Times, adding: “Secretary Hagel’s speech is full of encouragement, incitement for the Asia region’s instability giving rise to a disturbance.”
“Over all these years, China has never actively provoked an incident over matters of Chinese sovereignty, territory and maritime boundaries,” Wang said, according to the Times, adding: “It’s always been other parties concerned taking the initiative to provoke trouble, and then the Chinese government has had no choice but to respond.”
Speaking on Saturday at the Singapore summit, Hagel had said: "In recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea," adding: "All nations of the region, including China, have a choice: to unite and recommit to a stable regional order, or to walk away from that commitment and risk the peace and security that has benefited millions of people." He also warned that the U.S. would "not look the other way" if nations disobeyed international rules.
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Major General Zhu Chenghu, who heads the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, said in an interview, according to the Wall Street Journal: "The Americans are making very, very important strategic mistakes right now," adding: "If you take China as an enemy, China will absolutely become the enemy of the U.S."
China has recently stepped up efforts to assert itself in the region in order to be seen on an equal footing with the U.S., the Journal reported, citing sources.
"China is very significantly upping the ante here," Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University said, according to the Journal, adding: "What we're seeing is a steady and sharp increase in the overtones of the strategic rivalry."
Last month, a state-run Chinese oil company, sent a drilling rig close to the Paracel Islands, which are controlled by China but are claimed by Vietnam as well. The move sparked violent protests in Vietnam and claimed the lives of at least 21 people, including Chinese citizens. Last week, a Chinese fishing vessel hit and sank a Vietnamese boat, worsening the stand-off between the two nations over the oil-rig issue.
"You could say, now [the Chinese are] behaving more like a great power, they're behaving with a sense of entitlement, a sense of exceptionalism the way the Americans have done, and the British before them, as if the rules don't apply to them," an analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Journal.