US must 'respect' China's legitimate concerns in Asia-Pacific region
Beijing on Thursday urged Washington to respect China's interests in the Asia-Pacific region as US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta vowed, on the eve of his Asia trip, that the US will increase its military presence.
Although the US has insisted that its strategic shift to the region is not targeted at China, experts said Washington's deeds, including its plan to highlight the South China Sea issue at an annual regional security meeting at the weekend, exposed its true intentions.
They also reminded US officials to choose their words carefully to avoid denting Beijing's trust.
Asked about Panetta's Asian trip, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said at a news briefing on Thursday that China hoped the US would "play a positive and constructive role in the region''.
"We also hope the US will respect China's interests and concerns in the region,'' he added.
Panetta said before leaving the US on Tuesday that his trip to Vietnam, Singapore and India was aimed at remaining "vigilant" in the face of China's growing military.
"China's military is growing and modernizing. We must be vigilant. We must be strong. We must be prepared to confront any challenge," Panetta said when addressing graduates of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Still, he said the key to peace in the region is to develop a new era of defense cooperation with China.
He is also due to join a large high-ranking US delegation at the annual Asia security summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore on Saturday. Defense ministers and military chiefs of 28 Asia-Pacific states will attend the forum.
According to Pentagon officials, who briefed the media anonymously, Panetta is to deliver a major policy speech at the forum, "focusing on the Asia-Pacific, and the US role in the Asia-Pacific in light of the new strategy and rebalance''.
The South China Sea "will be something that's pretty high on people's minds during Panetta's trip'', a US official told the media.
The officials also said that the US defense secretary welcomes the opportunity to meet Chinese officials at the forum.
Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said at a regular news briefing on Thursday that Beijing will send Lieutenant General Ren Haiquan, vice-president of the PLA Academy of Military Science, to lead the Chinese delegation at the dialogue.