Hagel looks ready to work with China

Updated: 2013-01-08 07:57

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily)

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 Hagel looks ready to work with China

Chuck Hagel, who was likely to be nominated by President Barack Obama as defense secretary, speaks during an appearance at Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska, in February, 2007. Nati Harnik / Associated Press

Obama expected to nominate new defense chief

While US President Barack Obama's expected nomination on Monday of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary may start a tough confirmation fight in Congress, the former Republican senator from Nebraska appears willing to work with China.

During the NATO summit in Chicago in May, Hagel said China is going to emerge and grow. "It should - we should welcome that. They're going to be competitors. They are now, as are India, Brazil and other nations. That's okay," he said.

Recognizing the huge challenges China faces in areas such as poverty reduction, job creation, resources and transparency, Hagel praised the country's progress.

"They are a great power today, and they are going to continue to be a great power, and that's okay. But we shouldn't cower in the wake of that, or we shouldn't be concerned that they're going to take our place in the world," said the two-term US senator.

Obama will also announce the nomination of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan as the new CIA director, succeeding retired general David Petraeus, who resigned amid a scandal over an extramarital affair with his biographer.

Bonnie Glaser, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Hagel will try to reduce misunderstanding, expand cooperation and promote the bilateral US-China military relationship.

"However, at this juncture, I think factors other than individuals or personalities will be more important in shaping bilateral ties," she said.

Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai, said, "I see Chuck Hagel is a good candidate. He had the honesty to oppose the Iraq War - a moderate and respectful Republican."

Fan Jishe, a US studies expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Hagel is likely to maintain a consistent style with his predecessors, Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, in dealings with China.

"The US military seeks more cooperation with China, especially in non-traditional security areas," Fan said.

However, potential challenges remain for the China-US military relationship despite the goodwill shown at the official level, Fan said, adding that concerns over US intentions have been rising among think tanks and the public along with disputes over the Huangyan Island and Diaoyu Islands.

Fan said the new minister will need to well manage differences and a possible crisis between the two countries, especially over maritime disputes.

In a talk in 2010 with Zhang Yesui, Chinese ambassador to the United States, Hagel described the US-China relationship as "probably the most critical relationship for the 21st century".

Both Hagel and Zhang admitted that friction, mistrust and competition sometimes divide the two nations, due to economic interest and political differences.

Hagel believes that concentrating on the common interest is the key to developing a mutually beneficial relationship.

"We are far more likely to live peacefully and influence China if we are bound by strong economic ties and mutual geopolitical interest," he said, adding that China has become a major player in the world alongside the US.

In 2008, Hagel opposed a proposal in the US to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

"There is no good track record on that (boycott). I think you have to work with the reality," he said.

"We've got to find our relationships and alliances based on whether there is a common interest - the largest strategic context of that common interest. Then you can work through your differences," said Hagel.

While no one seems to raise issues with Hagel's stance on China, the maverick Republican's track record on a host of issues has raised eyebrows from those in his own party as well as the Democratic Party.

Hagel was a harsh critic of former US president George W. Bush's foreign policy. He got along well with Obama in the Senate when both opposed the Iraq War. The two even traveled together to Iraq in July 2008 during the presidential campaign.

Cheng Guangjin in Beijing contributed to this story.