- Mon, 06/04/2012 - 00:00
Posted at 06/04/2012 10:50 PM
Updated as of 06/04/2012 10:50 PM
BEIJING, China - China's Foreign Ministry said on Monday it hoped the United States will respect Beijing's regional interests, after the U.S. defense secretary announced plans to shift most of his country's warships to the Asia-Pacific by 2020.
China's relatively mild reaction to the U.S. announcement highlighted its reluctance to risk outright confrontation with Washington despite friction. The Foreign Ministry also brushed aside a question about an alleged spy scandal involving the United States.
"At present, the grand trend and broad aspiration of the Asia-Pacific region is towards seeking peace, fostering cooperation and encouraging development," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in answer to a question about the U.S. announcement about naval priorities.
"All sides should strive to preserve and promote regional peace, stability and development. The approach of artificially stressing military security, enhancing military deployments and strengthening military alliances is out of keeping with the times," Liu said at a daily news briefing.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Saturday the Pentagon would reposition its naval fleet so that 60 percent of its battleships would be in the Asia-Pacific by the end of the decade, up from about 50 percent now.
"The Asia-Pacific is the region where Chinese and U.S. interests most overlap, and we welcome the United States to play a constructive role in the region," Liu said.
"We also hope that the United States will respect the interests and concerns of all sides in the Asia-Pacific, including China."
Liu's reaction to Panetta's announcement echoed media reports on Sunday that quoted People's Liberation Army (PLA) Lieutenant General Ren Haiquan as saying China would intensify its vigilance, but not lash back, in response.
China is focused on ensuring stable conditions for a Communist Party leadership transition later this year that will see the appointment of a new president to succeed Hu Jintao.
Sources of friction between China and the United States include Iran, Syria, differences over the region of Tibet, the island of Taiwan and the value of China's currency.
Last week, Reuters reported that China had several months ago arrested an aide to a state security official on accusations that the aide had handed intelligence to the United States.
The Obama administration has been muted about the report and the Chinese ministry spokesman said he had nothing on it.
"I have no understanding of this matter," Liu said in answer to a question about the reported spy case.
China has long been wary of U.S. intentions, with hawkish voices in the People's Liberation Army saying that the United States was bent on encircling China and crippling its rise.
China's fast-modernising navy has stirred worries among neighbours, including in Southeast Asia, where several countries are in dispute with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Under the U.S. plans, Panetta announced the Navy would maintain six aircraft carriers assigned to the Pacific. Six of its 11 carriers are now assigned to the Pacific, but that will fall to five when the USS Enterprise is decommissioned soon.
The number will return to six when a new carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, is completed in 2015.
The U.S. Navy had a fleet of 282 ships as of March. That is expected to slip to about 276 over the next two years before beginning to rise toward the goal of a 300-ship fleet, according to a 30-year Navy projection released in March.