China called on the United States on Tuesday to restrain ally Japan and chided another USally, the Philippines, at the end of talks between American and Chinese defense chiefs that showed the strain of regional territorial disputes on Sino-US ties.
The forceful comments by Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan came just a day after US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel toured China's sole aircraft carrier, in a rare opening by Beijing to a potent symbol of its military ambitions.
Chang and Hagel spoke positively about improving military ties and announced steps to deepen them further. But the effort could do little to mask long-standing tension over of a range of issues, including in cyberspace but focused mainly on the two US allies locked in territorial disputes with China.
China claims 90 percent of the 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) South China Sea, where the Philippines, along with other countries, stake claims. China has a separate dispute with Japan in the East China Sea over uninhabited islets that are administered by Japan.
Chang asked the United States to "keep (Japan) within bounds and not to be permissive and supportive", and railed against the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who Hagel met in Tokyo last weekend. "It is Japan who is being provocative against China," Chang told a news conference after talks with Hagel. "If you come to the conclusion that China is going to resort to force against Japan, that is wrong ... we will not take the initiative to stir up troubles."
Chang called the Philippines a nation "disguising itself as a victim" and renewed its opposition to Manila's pursuit of international arbitration in its festering territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
Hagel, who met the defense minister from the Philippines last week, said he raised US concerns in Beijing over the tension in the South and East China Sea in Beijing.
He cautioned that no countries should resort to "intimidation, coercion, or aggression to advance their claims". "The Philippines and Japan are longtime allies of the United States. We have mutual self defense treaties with each of those two countries," Hagel said. "And we are fully committed to those treaty obligations."
The US State Department has accused China's coastguard of harassment of Philippine vessels and called its recent attempt to block a Philippine resupply mission to the Second Thomas Shoal, a disputed atoll, provocative and destabilising.
Hagel's visit to China came after a stop in Japan, where he called China a "great power" but urged it to use that power wisely. The official English-language China Daily, in an editorial on Tuesday, slammed those comments and accused Hagel of "emboldening countries in their bids to provoke China". "Although it professes not to take sides, the US has again sent a message to those Asian countries which have territorial disputes with China that the US will throw its weight behind them in their actions against China," the state-run paper wrote.