MANILA, Philippines - The United States is concerned about China's "lack of transparency" but is looking forward to building a "positive relationship" with the Asian giant.
US Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr., in an interview with The STAR last Monday, also clarified that he was just being honest when he scored China for its recent actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
“We are trying to be honest with our friends and allies… and honest with China about its recent actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea. We view with concern their lack of transparency,” Harris said.
“On the other hand, we want to have strong and positive relationship with China,” he added.
Harris said he finds nothing awkward in the US relationship with China and Washington simply wants to promote freedom of navigation and rule of law in the region.
“We’ve said this publicly. We are not trying to start a cold war with China,” the US military official said.
The US has declared that it would not side with anyone in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea dispute, but is calling on all claimants to follow the rule of law, a stance being upheld by the Philippines.
In contrast, China is against efforts at bringing the territorial row before the international tribunal and insists on addressing the row through bilateral negotiations.
Early this month, US naval operations chief Adm. Jonathan Greenert said US forces were ready to help the Philippines in the event of a Chinese invasion of Pag-Asa, the second largest island in the disputed Spratlys.
Greenert did not specify the form of assistance the US was prepared to extend to the Philippines, but noted that the two countries have an existing defense treaty.
Last week, US Army chief of staff Gen. Raymond Odierno engaged his Chinese counterpart Lt. Gen. Wang Ning in talks to boost US-China military cooperation.
Odierno cited the need for the American and Chinese militaries to work together to attain their “common objectives.”
“I don’t think it’s a mixed signal at all. It’s an optimistic signal,” Harris said, referring to the meeting between Wang and Odierno.
“I am hoping that we continue to have a strong military-to-military relationship with China over the next five years, with openness and transparency and not shrouded with opaqueness,” he said.
Harris said the US firmly believes in the freedom of navigation and is opposed to the establishment of air defense identification zones.
“As far as the US navy operations go, we are conducting our operations at sea and in the air through and in the so-called Chinese identification zone without respect for the zone itself. Business as before,” he said.
China’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) is located above international waters separating China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. It covers an area spanning about 1,000 kilometers from north to south.
The Chinese government is requiring all aircraft passing through the ADIZ to report their flight plans and make proper identification or risk facing “defensive emergency measures” from China’s armed forces.
The United States, Japan and the Philippines have aired opposition to China’s ADIZ, saying it was a threat to civil aviation and to regional stability in general.
A new Chinese fisheries law issued by the Hainan Provincial People’s Congress took effect last month, requiring all foreign fishing vessels to obtain approval from Chinese authorities before transiting into Hainan’s administrative zone in the South China Sea to conduct fishing or surveying activities.
China claims virtually the entire West Philippine Sea through the so-called nine-dash line, which covers more than 100 islets, atolls and reefs.
China’s territorial claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and Vietnam.
The situation in the West Philippine Sea has been tense due to China’s aggressive acts, the latest of which was the firing of a water cannon on Filipino fishermen by a Chinese coast guard ship.
Philippine officials condemned China’s aggressive acts but reiterated their commitment to peaceful means of resolving the dispute.
“Our policy is very clear. It should be solved by peaceful means,” said Armed Forces Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda.
“There is a policy already and we have to follow that. This can be solved peacefully using rule of law.”