BEIJING – The defense chiefs of China and the U.S. faced off Tuesday over Beijing's escalating territorial disputes in the region, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, wagging his finger, said China doesn't have the right to unilaterally establish an air defense zone over disputed islands with no consultation.
And he said America will protect Japan in a dispute with China.
Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan said his country will not take the initiative to stir up troubles with Japan, but Beijing is ready to use its military if needed to safeguard its territory. And he warned that the U.S. must "stay vigilant" against Japan's actions and "not be permissive and supportive" of Tokyo.
The two men were speaking to reporters after a meeting here.
The U.S. has criticized Beijing's recent declaration of an air defense zone over a large swath of the East China Sea, including disputed islands controlled by Japan.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting with Chang at the Ministry of Defense, the two men aired their countries' well-known positions about the territorial disputes.
The meeting focused on how the U.S. and China can build stronger ties, in the wake of years of frosty relations over Beijing's military buildup, persistent cyberattacks against U.S. government agencies and private industry, and aggressive Chinese territorial claims in the East China Sea.
Beijing's recent declaration of an air defense zone over a large swath of the East China Sea, including disputed islands controlled by Japan has raised complaints from the U.S., deepening concerns that it could spark a confrontation.
Washington has refused to recognize the zone or follow China's demands that its aircraft file flight plans with Beijing's Defense Ministry and heed Chinese instructions. China has warned of unspecified retaliatory measures against aircraft that do not comply, but has so far taken no action.
He also said the U.S. and China must be more open with each other about their cyber capabilities, saying that greater openness "reduces the risk that misunderstanding and misperception could lead to miscalculation."
Hagel pointed to the ongoing threat from North Korea, which recently threatened additional missile and nuclear tests. And he said the U.S. and China have a shared interest "in achieving a verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
In recent weeks the North has conducted a series of rocket and ballistic missile launches that are considered acts of protest against annual ongoing springtime military exercises by Seoul and Washington. North Korea says the exercises are rehearsals for invasion.