Apparently doing away with diplomatic pleasantries, the Chinese have been directly clear with Chuck Hagel as he lays the groundwork for President Obama's Asia trip later this month (scheduled to visit Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines - all in direct territorial conflicts with China). As Reuters reports, "Obama needs to pay serious consideration to this issue when he comes to Asia... China has already put this message across during the meetings with Hagel," said Ruan Zongze, a former diplomat with the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, a think tank linked to the Foreign Ministry. "The United States is moving in a direction we don't want to see, taking sides with Japan and the Philippines, and China is extremely unhappy about this."
Things did not start off well...
In one of the many frank exchanges U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had in China this week, General Fan Changlong told him how one of his uncles died as a slave in a Japanese mine during World War Two.
"The secretary made it very clear that we should be informed by history but not driven by it," a U.S. official told Reuters
But as Reuters reports, China made it very clear how it feels...
The exchange sums up the frustration in China over America's role in Asia, where in the eyes of Beijing, Washington is increasingly supporting Japan as well as other countries over territorial disputes with China. The United States has said it is not taking sides but stands ready to defend its allies.
China, some experts said, appeared to be getting anxious that recent tough talk from U.S. officials over the disputed East and South China Seas could be a preview of what U.S. President Barack Obama would say when he visits Asia this month.
Dispensing with diplomatic protocol, China has made clear this week that it does not want Obama jumping in with both feet when he travels to Japan, the Philippines and Malaysia.
While Beijing has territorial disputes with all three, its ties with Japan and the Philippines, both U.S. allies, are in the deep freeze. Obama will also visit South Korea, with whom Beijing is enjoying warm relations.
"Obama needs to pay serious consideration to this issue when he comes to Asia...China has already put this message across during the meetings with Hagel," said Ruan Zongze, a former diplomat with the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, a think tank linked to the Foreign Ministry.
"The United States is moving in a direction we don't want to see, taking sides with Japan and the Philippines, and China is extremely unhappy about this."
These comments by China are somewhat unprecedented...
On Tuesday, Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan told Hagel that Washington should restrain Japan and chided the Philippines.
Fan told Hagel outright that the "Chinese people are dissatisfied" with U.S. support for Japan and Southeast Asia, according to a statement carried on the Chinese defense ministry's website.
The influential tabloid the Global Times, published by the Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in an editorial on Wednesday that such strong words "have not been seen much in the past".
And are a major potential catalyst for Chinese repurcussions...
"They hope that the Obama visit will not be used to rally other countries against China. If you listen to the harsh rhetoric of senior (U.S.) administration officials, this is a genuine concern."
"They (Chinese officials) are trying to figure out whether it's the lower level (U.S.) people coming out and making these comments so the boss doesn't have to, or whether it's moving to a crescendo,"
"I think there is a concern that this debate could be swayed substantially if Obama were to make very forthright comments on this trip and that could tip the balance internally and make it more difficult for Xi to emphasize the Sino-U.S. relationship as paramount."
We just hope China does not lay down a red-line for Obama to cross. It seems, sooner rather than later, he will have to pick sides (or unpick any side).