U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he will meet with a senior Chinese military official during a security conference in Singapore and caution him about escalating territorial conflicts in the Asia-Pacific region.
Hagel is scheduled to meet with Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of general staff of China’s People Liberation Army and part of the country’s delegation to the annual Shangri-La security conference this weekend.
The U.S. has “a huge interest” in keeping sea lanes in the region open for commerce, Hagel told reporters on board his military aircraft heading to Singapore. Hagel said he also planned to discuss tensions between China and Vietnam over the South China Sea in “some specific terms.”
The U.S. and China “do have areas where we cooperate as well as directly confronting areas of, not competition, but areas where we think China is overplaying its hand in presenting new challenges and new tensions in this area,” Hagel said of his upcoming meeting with Wang.
China and Vietnam are in a weeks-long conflict over drilling for oil in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam that both nations claim as their territory. Tensions worsened this week when a Vietnamese fishing boat sank after colliding with a Chinese fishing vessel in the area.
China’s placement of the rig near the contested Paracel Islands sparked violent protests in Vietnam this month and led China to send ships to evacuate workers from the country after three Chinese nationals were killed. It spurred confrontations between coast guard vessels, including the use of water cannons and accusations of boats being rammed. China says the rig is in its territory and that it has long drilled in the area.
Hagel is heading to Singapore as part of a 12-day long trip that includes stops in Afghanistan, Belgium, Romania and France. This is Hagel’s fifth visit to the Asia-Pacific region since taking office in February 2013. He plans to hold 10 bilateral meetings with Asian counterparts as well as participate in two trilateral meetings -- one involving Japan and South Korea and the other with Japan and Australia.
Hagel will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who’s scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the conference today.
The U.S. is pushing Japan and South Korea to work together more closely on missile defense, a senior U.S. defense official traveling with Hagel told reporters. While each country’s missile defense system works in a hub and spoke fashion with the U.S. in the middle, the Pentagon’s goal is to get the two nations to collaborate, the official said.