China and U.S. agree to more military cooperation, disagree on East Asia

BY Ellen Rolfes  April 8, 2014 at 12:05 PM EST
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan, right, participate in a joint news conference at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan, right, participate in a joint news conference at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters in Beijing. While the two countries agree on more military cooperation, there is no movement on long-standing issues affecting the region; namely disputed territory in the South China Sea, cyber espionage and North Korean missiles Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

After a diplomatic and historic meeting between defense ministers of the world’s two largest economies and two largest militaries, Chinese and American military leaders still are divided on key issues facing East Asia; including territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbors, North Korea’s missile program and cyber espionage.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Beijing Monday to encourage stronger cooperation between the military powers of China and the U.S. And to some extent, he was successful in that goal. In talks early Tuesday morning, Hagel and China’s defense minister Chang Wanquan agreed to increasing joint military exercises, improving communication in order to avoid accidents and increasing the number of contacts between their military forces. Hagel also became the first foreigner to tour China’s only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, a former Soviet ship refurbished by the Chinese.

The U.S. hoped that the public pomp and circumstance would encourage China to be more transparent about its military growth and ambitions, as well as better respect its neighbors. That respect is a source of international tension, as China has asserted control over territories and resources also claimed by Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Despite the agreements and the historic elements of Hagel’s trip, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that Wanquan said Tuesday China “can never be contained.”

“I’d like to reiterate that the territorial sovereignty issue is China’s core interest,” Chang said. “On this issue, we will make no compromise, no concessions and not even a tiny bit of violation is allowed.”

Chang added that China desires a peaceful solution to disputes “with the countries involved.”

Hagel said in a news conference Tuesday that the U.S. was not attempting to hold China back.