Chinese Navy less assertive in 2011: US admiral

The US has urged China to resolve territorial disputes in South China Sea.

Washington: A top US officer said on Tuesday that China`s Navy has adopted a less aggressive stance in the Pacific in recent months after protests from Washington and other nations in the region.

Admiral Robert Willard, head of US Pacific Command, told senators the trend since January represented a "positive" step after mounting tension over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

"There has been a retrenchment a bit by the Chinese Navy, such that while we continue to experience their shadowing of some our ships that are operating in some of these waters, we have not seen the same level of assertiveness in 2011 that we witnessed in 2010," Willard told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The admiral said he was heartened by the development as US military relations have resumed with China and "perhaps we can make an advancement in that regard”.

Willard said China`s more conciliatory outlook had followed "very strong statements" by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates over Beijing`s actions in the region.

President Barack Obama`s administration has argued that the US Navy and other countries have a right to operate in the South China Sea under international law, despite Beijing`s insistence on an "economic exclusion zone”.

Gates and Hillary have called on China to join in a regional effort to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Willard said that there was no doubt that China "aims to have great influence over that maritime space, and especially over the contested areas that they`ve laid claim to in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea."

China has claimed mineral rights around the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and argued that foreign navies cannot sail through the area without Beijing`s permission.

In September, Japan and China clashed over the disputed Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China.

Willard also told lawmakers that China`s plans to deploy an aircraft carrier will have an effect on the balance of power in the region.

He said it would take some time before the aircraft carrier, an old Soviet ship that has been refurbished, is fully operational after a period of testing.

"But I think as a symbol, the feedback that we receive in our dialogue throughout the region is that the regional partners regard this step by the Chinese in the midst of what has otherwise been a remarkable growth in their military capability as significant," he said.

China`s spending on new weapons has caused concern abroad but Beijing says its military is only focused on defending the country`s territory.

The Chinese Army is hugely secretive about its defence programs, which benefit from a big military budget boosted by the nation`s runaway economic growth

Bureau Report

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