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US warns China over contested islands

US defence secretary warns China against unilateral action over disputes with Japan, a day before his visit to Beijing.

Last updated: 06 Apr 2014 06:09
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"Great powers have great responsibilities. And China is a great power," Hagel said on his visit to Japan [AP]

United States Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has called on China not to take unilateral action to resolve territorial disputes with Japan or other Asian countries that are increasingly anxious over its posture in territorial disputes.

"Great powers have great responsibilities. And China is a great power," Hagel said, adding he wanted to talk with China about its use of military power.

Hagel was speaking during a visit to ally Japan, where there is growing concern over China's military build-up and its increasingly assertive posture in a territorial dispute with Tokyo over islands in the East China Sea. The defence secretary to depart for Beijing on Monday for an official visit.

"I will be talking with the Chinese about its respect for their neighbours. Coercion, intimidation is a very deadly thing that leads only to conflict," he said, according to Reuters news agency.

"All nations deserve respect, no matter how large or how small," Hagel said, adding, "I think we're seeing some clear evidence of a lack of respect, and coercion and intimidation with ... what the Russians have done in Ukraine."

Countries had to speak up and clearly reject such a blatant violation of international law, said Hagel, referring to Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Japan has recently drawn parallels between Russia's actions in Crimea and what it sees as China's challenge to the status quo in East China Sea.

Hagel hosted talks last week with Southeast Asian defence ministers where he also warned of growing US concern about territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

New US ship deployments

US defence secretary’s remarks came as he announced the deployment of two more ballistic missile defence ships to Japan.

The ships were being sent to help counter the threat posed by North Korea, Hagel said, but the move also carried symbolic weight amid Japan's tense standoff with China over islets in the East China Sea.

Hagel reiterated that Washington stood by its mutual defence treaty with Japan, saying it applied to disputed islands in the East China Sea, where Beijing and Tokyo are locked in a bitter argument.

"We take seriously America's treaty commitments, and we strongly oppose any unilateral coercive action that seeks to undermine Japan's administrative control," Hagel said, adding, "America has no stronger ally or better friend in this region than Japan."

Toyko scrambled military aircraft last month after three Chinese planes flew near Japanese airspace, the latest confrontation in the row over islets in the East China Sea.

The islands are administered by Japan, which calls them the Senkaku Islands, but which China refers to as the Diaoyu Islands.

Chinese government ships and planes have been seen off the disputed islands numerous times since Japan nationalised them in September 2012, sometimes within the 12-nautical-mile territorial zone.

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