China denounced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Sunday for “provocative” remarks accusing Beijing of destabilising actions in contested Asian waters.
Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, told an Asian security forum in Singapore that strong comments made by Abe and Hagel at the conference were “unacceptable”.
Abe had opened the Shangri-La Dialogue on Friday by urging countries to respect the rule of law — an apparent reference to what rivals consider aggressive Chinese behaviour over disputed areas in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
Hagel on Saturday warned China against “destabilising actions” in the South China Sea and listed a number of alleged infractions, including against the Philippines and Vietnam, the two most vocal critics of Beijing’s claims.
“The Chinese delegation… have this feeling that the speeches of Mr Abe and Mr Hagel are a provocative action against China,” Wang, dressed in full military uniform, said in an address to the forum.
Abe had left Saturday and Hagel departed early Sunday before Wang spoke.
The Pentagon said Hagel and Wang held a brief meeting Saturday in which they “exchanged views about issues important to both the US and China, as well as to the region”.
About midway into his prepared speech in which he said China “will never seek hegemony and foreign expansion”, Wang diverted from the script.
He accused Abe and Hagel of “coordinating” with each other to attack China.
“This is simply unimaginable,” said Wang, the highest ranking military official in the Chinese delegation, adding that the US and Japanese speeches were “unacceptable and not in the spirit of this Shangri-La Dialogue”.
“The speeches made by Mr Abe and Mr Hagel gave me the impression that they coordinated with each other, they supported each other, they encouraged each other and they took the advantage of speaking first… and staged provocative actions and challenges against China,” he said.