US will keep its edge: Hagel

Updated: 2013-11-06 10:00

By Chen Weihua in Washington (China Daily USA)

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US will keep its edge: Hagel

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel shakes hands with a member of the audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Tuesday morning for the Global Security Forum 2013. Hagel delivered a keynote speech. Sun Chenbei /China Daily

As China and the US see increased military exchanges, top US defense and military leaders also warned of dangers of potential conflicts in the Asia-Pacific region.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Tuesday that regional tensions and conflicts in the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and elsewhere continue to have the potential to erupt into larger-scale conflicts drawing in the US, China and Russia.

While Hagel did not elaborate, his words are believed to imply a potential escalation of tensions over the territorial disputes between China and Japan in regard to the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

There have been serious concerns that the US, as a treaty ally of Japan, may be drawn into an unintended war with China that could be disastrous for the whole world.

Speaking about US security strategy at a security forum on Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Hagel said the US will prioritize on protecting investments in emerging military capabilities, especially space, cyber, special operations forces, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

"As our potential adversaries invest in more sophisticated capabilities and seek to further frustrate our military's traditional advantages — including our freedom of action and access — it will be important to maintain our decisive technological edge," he said.

Some analysts worry about a potential arms race between China and the US in the region. While China is developing an anti-access area denial strategy in response to what it sees as an increasing US military threat in the region, the US has devised an air-sea battle concept that aims to take out facilities in China.

"We are talking about rapid escalation of a very dangerous situation if we go down that route," warned former US ambassador to China Stapleton Roy, now a distinguished scholar at the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.

Roy believes that the two countries should treat this not just as a military issue, but a problem of the grand strategy that includes all components of national powers. He said the two countries should pay attention to the totality of the relationship, such as economic, people-to-people exchanges and educational aspects.

"This is very important to the new type of relationship," Roy said, referring to a consensus reached by Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama when they met in Sunnylands, California, in June.

Roy said it's wrong for the US administration to present its Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy as a military buildup, saying that it's cheaper in most cases to be on the West Coast of the US.

Christopher Johnson, a senior adviser and Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS, agreed that the US side had put too much emphasis on the military piece of the rebalance in the beginning, but he said the administration has very effectively sensed that so as to include economic, trade and other aspects that are equally important.

Johnson said the increase in US military resources in the region has been fairly modest so far.

But Admiral Samuel Locklear III, commander of the US Pacific Command, told reporters on Tuesday that the relocation of US naval assets into the region should be no surprise given the economic importance of the region to the US and world economies.

"It would seem to me that positioning a large portion of our navy into the world's largest ocean over time would not be something that be viewed as unusual, particularly since, as I said, I think our economic focus and our security focus will continue to be in the Asia Pacific," he said.

Shen Dingli, associate dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said China would expect the US to play a stabilizing role in East Asia without bias. Many Chinese see the US as biased towards Japan in the Diaoyu Islands disputes.

"Regional security balance is necessary to sustain status quo stability and as the military superpower, America has to cut, rather than increase, its military capacity deployed in this region so as to prevent a regional arms race," Shen said.

While pledging to maintain US military supremacy in the world, Hagel cautioned on Tuesday that the US should use its military power "wisely, precisely, judiciously" and "as a last resort".

"Going forward, as we are doing in Asia-Pacific, the United States must use military strength as a supporting component of a comprehensive strategy to protect and advance American interests in the 21st century. This requires striking a careful balance between all elements of our power," he said.

Locklear noted that the US has a growing strategic partnership with China. "It's important that we communicate on all levels of our society and government. So to have the militaries not communicating with each other just doesn't make a lot of sense," he said.

High-level visits between the two militaries have increased over the past year, described by Roy as the best in the past 20 years.

Locklear said he is looking forward to next week's China-US joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief drill.

"These types of exercises give us a good place to start and to kind of get into the rhythm of understanding and trusting each other," he said.