China's military chiefs openly vent their anger at Hagel

CHINESE military leaders have openly slammed US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel for his recent criticism of Beijing's actions in territorial disputes, a surprising move coming a day after they had taken him on an unprecedented tour of their nation's sole aircraft carrier.

General Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, and Defence Minister Chang Wanquan made their disdain clear in separate meetings yesterday with Mr Hagel, on his first visit to China since he took office in February last year.

Speaking in full view of the press, Gen Fan told Mr Hagel that he took personal offence at his remarks in Japan last weekend and at a meeting of Asean defence ministers in Hawaii last week.

"I can tell you frankly, your remarks made at the Asean defence ministers meeting and to the Japanese politicians were tough and with a clear attitude," said Gen Fan. "The Chinese people, including myself, are dissatisfied with such remarks."

Mr Hagel arrived from Japan where he had promised to tell China to exercise its "great responsibilities" prudently and to improve transparency in the People's Liberation Army, the world's largest military with 2.3 million troops.

In Hawaii, he had said he would prod Chinese leaders towards "responsible behaviour" in their disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea and with four Asean states and Taiwan in the South China Sea.

Delivering on his pledge, the US defence chief yesterday used frank language in restating Washington's displeasure over Beijing's recent moves such as the launch of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea.

"The United States has been very clear on this issue. And that is that, first, every nation has a right to establish air defence zones, but not a right to do it unilaterally, with no collaboration, no consultation," Mr Hagel said at a meeting with Gen Chang in Beijing.

"That adds to tensions, misunderstandings, and could eventually add to, and eventually get to, dangerous conflict."

The exchange followed a positive start to Mr Hagel's visit on Monday when he became the first senior Western official to tour the aircraft carrier Liaoning.

Gen Chang vowed no compromise in protecting China's territorial sovereignty.

"The China-US relationship is neither comparable to US-Russia ties in the Cold War, nor a relationship between container and contained," he said. "China's development can't be contained by anyone."