China’s President Hu Jintao sent a stark warning to his country’s rivals today calling for the navy to “prepare for war”.
The defence ministry said the comments were not aimed at any particular nation but Mr Hu’s speech to military leaders in Beijing comes amid growing tension in the Asia-Pacific region.
China claims all of the oil and gas rich South China Sea, as does Taiwan, while four other countries declare ownership of parts of it, with Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Chinese forces of increasing aggression there. In the speech he said the navy should “accelerate its transformation and modernisation in a sturdy way, and make extended preparations for military combat in order to make greater contributions to safeguard national security and world peace”.
He added: “Our work must closely encircle the main theme of national defence and military building.”
Last month China announced it would conduct navy exercises in the Pacific following a major diplomatic campaign by President Barack Obama to assert the US as a power.
But today relationships between the two superpowers appeared to be thawing as Chinese and US defence officials opened talks in Beijing.
The meeting – between US under- secretary of defence Michele Flournoy and her Chinese counterpart Ma Xiaotian – was the first since September, when Washington announced a £3.5 billion upgrade to Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets, which angered China.
Opening the one-day annual meeting, Mr Ma said the talks showed that “both countries are being sincere about maintaining military exchanges”. “Hopefully both sides will make the best of this opportunity to expand common ground, keep risks under control and avoid misjudgment,” he added.
Besides the sales to Taiwan, Mr Ma is also expected to complain about US military surveillance missions within China’s exclusive economic zone.
He is likely to raise US plans announced late last month to rotate marines to Australia for training with Australian forces from a base in Darwin, beginning next year.
Up to 2,500 marines, infantry units as well as aviation squadrons and combat logistic battalions, will go there from Okinawa or other marine stations in Japan and elsewhere in the Pacific for a few months at a time.
Chinese hard-liners have called the move, along with strengthened military ties with allies Japan and the Philippines as well as former enemy Vietnam, a new US containment policy that must be resisted. The White House is believed to have briefed Ms Flournoy to raise concerns about China’s relations with North Korea and Iran. She will also ask questions about cyber security, nuclear weapons policy and China’s plans for space exploration.