Bold moves made by the Chinese in the East China Sea in recent weeks are far more troubling than simply their desire to control nearby airspace, top defense officials said Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey have not spoken with either of their Chinese counterparts since China said it established an "aerial defense identification zone" on Nov. 23 over a string of disputed islands. Dempsey told reporters Wednesday he had sent a request through military backchannels to speak with China's top officer. He expects to do so at the conclusion of Vice President Joe Biden's ongoing Asian trip.
Both expressed concern that China did not consult anyone outside of their borders before enacting the new restrictions.
"It's not that the ADIZ itself is new or unique," said Hagel. "The biggest concern we have is how it was done so unilaterally, and so immediately without any consultation or international consultation."
"That's not a wise course of action to take for any country," he said.
The U.S., as well as staunch allies Japan and South Korea have blasted the Chinese moves as a source of potential destabilization in an already tense region of the world, and a highly trafficked airspace. Security experts have warned that no countries in that region -- particularly China and Japan -- seem able to empathize with the concerns of others, and cite the danger of the escalation that could come from an aerial accident.
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met in recent months to discuss building up the relationship between the two countries' militaries. Both Hagel and Dempsey on Wednesday cited the importance of this kind of interaction for preventing such crises in the future.
Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Chang Wanquan visited the Pentagon in August to discuss future programs with the U.S. military, but cautioned against those who believe this could solve China's regional issues.
"Nobody should fantasize that China would barter away our core interests, and no one should underestimate our will, and our determination in defending our territory, sovereignty and maritime rights," Chang said. "Any unwanted action or provocation that further complicates the situation is highly irresponsible and will not lead to a favorable result."
"We are working toward a stronger relationship to build some mechanisms to address some of these tense issues, which probably are not going to get any less complicated in the East and South China seas," said Hagel. "It's important for China, Japan, South Korea and other nations in this area to stay calm and responsible. These are combustible issues."
"This is a time when we need to, carefully, all of us, sort through some of these issues," he said.