China’s foreign minister and the U.S. commander of the Pacific both spoke Thursday on military expansion in the South China Sea, yet their statements made it clear the two nations continue to be at odds over China’s military build-up in the area.
While speaking at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi downplayed China’s military build up in the Pacific, emphasizing the idea that expansionism is contradictory to Chinese identity.
“Some friends in the United States are worried and view China as the real major adversary of the US; they fear it will replace US. This argument has strategic mistrust and suspicion behind it,” said Wang. “Confrontation [between the US and China] would be a lose-lose situation; there is no reason to enter such a zero sum game.”
Wang’s comments focused on countering the idea that China will overtake the U.S. as a world superpower, and included a call for a peaceful solution to disputes over the sovereignty of the South China Sea.
“The general situation there is stable; no commercial vessel has complained that its freedom of navigation has been jeopardized,” said Wang, assuring the audience that China’s build-up in the area is not an attempt to limit the freedom of navigation of international vessels. “China’s position is that we want a peaceful resolution.”
Harris took a different stance on what he believes is the true Chinese intention for the South China Sea. During a briefing to the Pentagon press corps, U.S. Navy Adm. Harry Harris reassured reporters the U.S. is a Pacific nation, and will therefore be a Pacific power and continue asserting itself in the South China Sea.
“I am of the opinion they are militarizing the South China sea,” said Harris to reporters. He noted that China is responsible for changing the operational landscape of the area by creating 3,000 acres worth of military bases, none of which existed before China’s island-building campaign.
One of the primary concerns over China’s base building has been the placement of fighter aircraft, anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, all of which could potentially pose a threat to U.S. interests. Harris noted that while the U.S. is not at war with China, Navy ships are operating within range of Chinese assets — the country is a threat he continues to monitor.
When queried on the difference between the U.S. and Chinese perspectives on China’s endeavors, Wang took a slight jab at the U.S. “The U.S. adopts a global foreign policy while China pays more attention to our own neighborhood. China’s focus is on partnerships rather than alliances, dialogue instead of confrontation,” he said.
Harris, however, does not see China’s intentions as benign. “I believe China seeks hegemony in East Asia. Simple as that,” he said during a testimony Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Ellyse Elmer and Francesca Collins contributed to this report.
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