US defence chief gets earful as China visit exposes tensions

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Tensions between China and the United States were on full display on Tuesday as defence Secretary Chuck Hagel faced questions in Beijing about America's position in bitter territorial disputes with regional US allies.

Chinese defence Minister Chang Wanquan, standing side-by-side with Hagel, called on the United States to restrain ally Japan and chided another US ally, the Philippines.

Then, Hagel was sharply questioned by Chinese officers at the National defence University. One of them told Hagel he was concerned that the United States was stirring up trouble in the East and South China Sea because it feared someday "China will be too big a challenge for the United States to cope with."

"Therefore you are using such issues ... to make trouble to hamper (China's) development," the officer said.

Hagel assured the audience that America had no interest in trying to "contain China" and that it took no position in such disputes. But he also cautioned repeatedly during the day that the United States would stand by its allies.

"We have mutual self defence treaties with each of those two countries," Hagel said, referring to Japan and the Philippines."And we are fully committed to those treaty obligations."

The questioning came just a day after Hagel toured China's sole aircraft carrier, in a rare opening by Beijing to a potent symbol of its military ambitions. Chinese defence Minister Chang called Hagel, the top civilian at the Pentagon, the first foreign military official to be allowed on board the Liaoning.

Chang and Hagel spoke positively about improving military ties and announced steps to deepen them. But the effort could do little to mask long-standing tension over a range of issues, from cyber spying and US arms sales to Taiwan to China's military buildup itself.

At a seminar in New York, China's ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said Washington needed to think hard about the purpose of its military presence in Asia and whether its political agenda and those of its Asian allies were the same.

He spoke of the need to move away from "outdated alliances"and warned against any attempt to create an Asian version of the NATO Western military alliance to contain China.

"If your mission there is to contain some other country, then you are back in the Cold War again, maybe," he said. If your intention is to establish an Asian NATO, then we are back in the Cold War-era again. This is something that will serve nobody's interest, it's quite clear."