Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday has urged the navy to prepare for military combat. The Pentagon however downplayed President Hu’s speech, saying that Beijing had the right to military development, but in a transparent manner. At the same time, regional powers are to hold exchanges on regional issues, with the US meeting with India and Japan in their first trilateral meeting this month, and India and China holding military level talks later this week.
President Hu: “Make extended preparations for warfare”
Official news agency Xinhua quoted President Hu as telling PLA Navy deputies to “accelerate the transformation and modernization of the Navy in a sturdy way, and make extended preparations for warfare in order to make greater contributions to safeguarding national security and world peace.” It is however reported that the term “junshi douzheng” originally used in President Hu’s speech and translated by Xinhua as “warfare” can also be translated as “military combat” or “military struggle.”
His comments come amid rising tensions over maritime disputes in the region and a US push to assert itself as a Pacific power. The US and China’s neighbours have voiced concerns over Chinese naval ambitions, especially in the South China Sea. Vietnam and the Philippines have accused China of aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
President Hu's speech comes in the wake of US officials making visits to Asia, including President Barack Obama, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Undersecretary of defence Michelle Flournoy is scheduled to meet with her Chinese counterparts in Beijing on Wednesday for military-to-military talks.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao warned against interference by “external forces” in territorial disputes in the region, including the South China Sea. Beijing also added late last month it would conduct naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean after President Obama said the US would deploy up to 2,500 Marines to Australia.
China's first aircraft carrier began its second maritime trial last week, according to the government. Beijing has insisted that the carrier does not threaten its neighbours and will be used mainly for training and research, but the trials were met with consternation from regional powers including Japan and the United States, which called on Beijing to explain why it needs an aircraft carrier.
Report: Chinese President meets deputies for military meetings (Xinhua, 6 Dec 2011)
Report: China's Hu urges navy to prepare for combat (AFP, 6 Dec 2011)
Opinion: Why is China's navy preparing for combat? (Global Post, 6 Dec 2011)
Pentagon: China has “the right to develop military” but needs to be transparent
Washington on Tuesday sought to play down President Hu’s announcement, insisting that Beijing has the right to develop its military but underscoring the need for full “transparency”.
George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said, “The United States views the Asia-Pacific region as a top priority. Our policy is focused on the region and not on any one country in particular.” He added that regarding China, “they have the right to develop military capabilities and plan just as we do and we repeatedly call for transparency from the Chinese and that's part of the relationship we are continuing to build with the Chinese military.”
Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby reaffirmed China’s right to development naval capability, nothing that “[the] peaceful rise of China is a good thing for the region, is a good thing for the world. We continue to seek a better military relationship with China. We continue to pursue that. That is not only in their interest, ours but the entire world as well.” He added that “[our] naval forces are ready and they'll stay ready.”
Report: US seeks 'transparency' in growth of Chinese military power (Times of India, 7 Dec 2011)
Meetings of regional powers: Japan-India-US trilateral meeting; India-China military talks
Amid these statements, the US, India and Japan will hold their first trilateral meeting this month as Washington pushes ahead with its "pivot" toward Asia. The US State Department said the three countries would meet in Washington on December 19, represented by senior diplomats.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “This meeting is going to be an opportunity to hold comprehensive discussion on a range of Asia-Pacific regional issues.”
The meeting is seen as the latest signal of the Obama administration's efforts to push back against Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region and reinforce existing alliances.
India and Japan are worried about China, which is making use of its economic strength to boost its military and become increasingly assertive. Those concerns have been especially evident in the South China Sea, where the US has pressed China not to allow territorial disputes to put at risk the security of waterways essential to Asian trade.
US officials have emphasised that they do not seek to threaten China, but Beijing has reacted cautiously and warned Washington not to take actions that could result in Cold War-style animosity.
Richard Fontaine, a senior adviser at the Centre for a New American Security think-tank, said the three-way meeting could fuel anxieties of “encirclement” in Beijing, which is embarking on a critical period of political leadership transition as President Hu prepares to hand over the reins to Vice President Xi Jinping in early 2012.
Report: U.S., India, Japan to meet after Obama's Asia “pivot” (Reuters, 5 Dec 2011)
Meanwhile, India and China will hold military level talks, in the wake of the cancellation or postponement of several high-level exchanges including a trip to New Delhi by Vice-President Xi.
According to an official press release from the Indian defence ministry, defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma and China's deputy chief of People's Liberation Army (PLA) General Ma Xiaotian will meet on Friday for the fourth round of the Annual Defence Dialogue.
China confirmed on Monday the talks which come two weeks after the India and China cancelled border talks because of Chinese opposition to a global Buddhist conference in New Delhi to be addressed by the Dalai Lama.
The talks are the highest military level exchanges between the two countries in almost two years, the last meeting being held in January 2010. The talks come amid Sino-Indian tensions over the past year on a range of issues, from China's reluctance to accept an Indian military delegation led by a general commanding troops in Kashmir, to New Delhi's rapid build-up of forces along the China border and Indian actions in the South China Sea, where it plans to conduct joint oil exploration with Vietnam in disputed maritime territories.
Indian officials confirmed that a visit to New Delhi by Vice President Xi will not take place in 2011.
Report: India and China to meet for military talks after several prior cancellations (Straits Times, 6 Dec 2011)