US woos RI, China offensive on S. China Sea

While China took a combined offensive and persuasive approach when talking about its role in the South China Sea, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel singled-out Indonesia during a two-day international dialog on security and defense here.

Indonesia must play a strategic role in maintaining regional order and the US wants to build a strong relationship with the archipelagic nation, the Pentagon chief said over the weekend.

“As a large, diverse and democratic country, Indonesia has a key role in helping lead this region,” Hagel said at the first plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday.

“The United States and Indonesia — the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation — are building new habits of cooperation that reflect a shared vision for a peaceful and prosperous region,’ Hagel said in his speech.

“The United States and Indonesia are working together on humanitarian assistance and disaster response, maritime security, international peacekeeping and combating transnational threats”

Hagel also mentioned that it was the long-term US strategy to build strong relationships with rising powers such as India, Indonesia and China as part of its pivot or rebalancing to Asia.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that China on Sunday deflected criticism over its actions in several maritime disputes with its neighbors and defended its relationship with North Korea.

Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army, reiterated at an annual security conference in Singapore that the Chinese government and military only seek peaceful development and that other countries should not view its strengthening military as a threat.

China is embroiled in a series of running disputes with its neighbors, including with Japan that soured bilateral relations and with several countries around the South China Sea who dispute China’s claims to potentially oil-rich areas of the sea.

Beijing and Tokyo have been caught up in a long-running battle over what the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands and the Chinese call Diaoyutai. China recently asserted its dominance by sending government ships into Japanese territorial waters in April.

Qi said China was only safeguarding its sovereignty in its dispute with Japan, where both claim ownership of the islands —other countries in the South China Sea such as Vietnam and the Philippines also maintain ownership claims.

“Chinese warships and patrolling activity are totally legitimate; it is uncontroversial to patrol within our territory,” Qi said when being questioned by delegates.

The deputy chief faced a series of pointed questions about China’s growing military and regional assertiveness and joked that he thought he would have “an easier time than Chuck Hagel”.

Reiterating China’s stance, Qi said it wanted to resolve disputes through bilateral negotiations. Some countries want multilateral talks, feeling China’s size is too much of an advantage in direct talks.

Meanwhile Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Japan is strengthening its economy and military to play a responsible international role, seeking to defuse suspicion of neighbors scarred by attacks and occupations in the last century.

Japan, a US ally in dispute with China over maritime territory and within range of North Korean missiles, “caused tremendous damage and suffering” in the past but wants to look to the future by promoting cooperation, Onodera said here on Saturday.

“A strong Japan will play a responsible role in the area of regional security and exercise strong leadership as expected by the international community,” Onodera said, as quoted by Reuters.

The Jakarta Post