May 31 - U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says Beijing has ''undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions'' in South China Sea -- remarks a Chinese general called ''groundless.'' Gavino Garay reports.
An all but soft start at an Asia-Pacific security forum in Singapore for the U.S. defense chief. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel began with remarks on Beijing's actions in the disputed South China Sea. (SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL SAYING: "China has called the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation and that's what it should be. But in recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea." The Chinese military deputy chief of staff didn't hesitate to respond. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE PEOPLE'S LIBERATION ARMY, WANG GUANZHONG, SAYING: (SOUNDBITE CONTINUES OVER SEVERAL SHOTS OF HAGEL SPEAKING) At such a public venue, Hagel publicly singled out China and made groundless accusations. These accusations are all baseless and unreasonable." In recent weeks, tensions have been mounting in the region after China placed an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam. The Philippines also said Beijing could be building an airstrip on a disputed island. Later in the day, the Chinese general and Hagel held a bilateral meeting -- but no sign whether that meeting was able to smooth out hard feelings.