Beijing urged the United States Thursday to respect its interests in the Asia Pacific, as US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta began a visit to the region aimed at shoring up US naval power.
Panetta’s visit follows the strategic shift towards Asia announced by US President Barack Obama last year, and comes amid renewed regional tensions over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Asked about Panetta’s visit to Vietnam, Singapore and India, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said China hoped the United States 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.
China and several Asian nations have rival claims to uninhabited islands in the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in hydrocarbons and straddles strategic shipping lanes vital to global trade.
Relations between Beijing and Manila have plunged recently with both sides pressing their conflicting claims to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.
The two countries have had ships posted around the shoal since early April, when Chinese vessels prevented a Philippine Navy ship from arresting Chinese fishermen.
Panetta said before leaving the United States that his trip was aimed at remaining “vigilant” in the face of China’s growing military.
He is is due to attend an annual Asia security summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore this week.