China sceptical of expanded US role in the Pacific

SINGAPORE (AP) - A Chinese military leader on Saturday pointedly questioned the expanded US role in the Pacific after the Pentagon chief said he hoped for better military ties between the two powers.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a speech at a security conference in Singapore, also warned China about cyberattacks seemingly linked to Beijing.

He said the US has expressed its concerns about "the growing threat of cyberintrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military." Other US officials have publicly blamed China for computer-based attacks that steal data from the US government and corporations, but Hagel's rebuke came in China's backyard and in front of a Chinese delegation.

Major General Yao Yunzhu, director of the Centre for China-America Defence Relations at the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Academy of Military Science, challenged Hagel to better explain America's intentions for its military buildup across the region.

"Thank you for mentioning China several times," she said in the question-and-answer session after Hagel's speech.

She said the Obama administration's new focus on the Pacific has been widely interpreted as an "attempt to counter China's rising influence and to offset the increasing military capabilities of the Chinese PLA. However, China is not convinced." She asked Hagel how he can assure China that the increased US deployments to the region are part of an effort to build a more positive relationship with Beijing.

"That's really the whole point behind closer military-to-military relationships," Hagel responded. "We don't want miscalculations and misunderstandings and misinterpretations. And the only way you do that is you talk to each other."

The US welcomes a strong and emerging China that takes on responsibilities for security in the region, Hagel said, adding that the countries have to be inclusive and direct with each other.

"I think we've made continued progress," he said. "And we'll make more progress."