China says hopes U.S. will respect concern after naval shift


China’s Foreign Ministry said it hoped the United States would respect Chinese concerns in the region, after the U.S. defence secretary announced plans to shift most of his country’s warships to the Asia-Pacific by 2020.

“At present, the grand trend and broad aspiration of the Asia-Pacific region is towards seeking peace, fostering cooperation and encouraging development,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in answer to a question about the U.S. announcement.
“All sides should strive to preserve and promote regional peace, stability and development. The approach of artificially stressing military security, enhancing military deployments and strengthening military alliances is out of keeping with the times,” he said at a daily news briefing, Reuters reports.

U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Saturday the Pentagon would reposition its naval fleet so that 60 percent of its battleships would be in the Asia-Pacific by the end of the decade, up from about 50 percent now.
“The Asia-Pacific is the region where Chinese and U.S. interests most overlap, and we welcome the United States to play a constructive role in the region,” Liu said. “We also hope that the United States will respect the interests and concerns of all sides in the Asia-Pacific, including China.”

Liu’s remarks were China’s first public reaction to Panetta’s announcement, though media said on Sunday China would intensify its vigilance, but not lash back, in response.

China has long been wary of U.S. intentions, with more hawkish voices in the People’s Liberation Army saying that the United States was bent on encircling China and frustrating its rise.

China’s fast-modernising navy has stirred worries among neighbours, including in Southeast Asia, where several countries are in dispute with China over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Under the plans, Panetta announced the U.S. Navy would maintain six aircraft carriers assigned to the Pacific. Six of its 11 carriers are now assigned to the Pacific, but that will fall to five when the USS Enterprise is decommissioned soon.

The number will return to six when a new carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, is completed in 2015.

The U.S. Navy had a fleet of 282 ships as of March. That is expected to slip to about 276 over the next two years before beginning to rise toward the goal of a 300-ship fleet, according to a 30-year Navy projection released in March.