China was completely justified in rejecting remarks made by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the 13th Asia Security Summit, or Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore on Saturday.
The US defense chief did everything he could to point an accusing finger. He not only charged China with taking "destabilizing, unilateral actions" in the South China Sea but also criticized the demarcation of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea and the so-called cyber spying against the United States.
The US accusations are nothing but groundless and unreasonable. It is inappropriate for the defense chief to fire anti-China remarks from the podium of a regional security forum where the US stance is by no means constructive to regional peace and stability.
Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army who led the Chinese delegation, rightfully pointed out that Hagel's speech bore every sign of US hegemony as it was filled with instigation, threat and intimidation.
Wang's comment provides an accurate lens for people to see through Washington's real intentions in the region. Hagel has criticized China for taking so-called destabilizing and unilateral actions in the South China Sea. In fact, it is the US's unilateral move in the region that has encouraged some countries in the region to covet islands and islets to which they are not entitled.
Until 2009 no country had challenged China's de facto control over the "nine-dash line" that outlines its territory in the South China Sea. The area of jurisdiction is explicitly defined, and China holds indisputable proof of its sovereignty over the waters. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which some claimant countries have frequently referred, also respects historical sovereignty.
Since 2009, when the Obama administration set out to implement its "rebalancing to Asia" policy, Washington has strengthened its military ties with its regional allies and shipped advanced military equipment to the region. It is no secret that Washington has assumed the role of a wirepuller behind a number of maritime territorial disputes in the region.
As for the US objection to China's establishment of an ADIZ over the East China Sea, it is obvious that Washington has raised the tone of its criticism out of fear that China's increasing activities in the region may impair its vested interests.
Since China announced the establishment of the ADIZ on Nov 23, the US has been leading a chorus denouncing the move. Their criticism is hardly worth refuting as China's ADIZ conforms to international law and international practice – more than 20 countries have set up ADIZs, and the US was the first to do so 60 years ago.
During Saturday's speech, Hagel tried to depict the US as country that dutifully defends the international order in the Asia Pacific. Washington never hides its intention to play a leading role in regional affairs but with such an unconstructive attitude as displayed in Hagel's remarks, even countries welcoming a bigger role for Uncle Sam in the region, could not help but wonder about the US's real intentions. More and more people in this region have begun to realize that the US only wants to fish in troubled waters.
"The United States will not look the other way when fundamental principles to the international order are being challenged," Hagel said. Again this is hypocritical as well as self-deceiving.
The US has thrown its weight behind Japan, its regional ally, since September 2012 when the Japanese government unilaterally announced its decision to "nationalize" China's Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Washington should be reminded that Japan's attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea and its increasingly rightist behavior are posing the greatest threat to the norms governing international order.
As such, by lodging unwarranted accusations against China, Hagel has sent a wrong signal in Singapore. His arguments do a disservice to regional efforts in quelling maritime disputes as well as sowing more seeds of discord in the region.
The author is a senior writer of China Daily