In geopolitics there is no such thing as stagnant. Relations between nations or regions are either rising or falling, but the only sure thing is that they are always changing. Such is the case now in Asia as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel found out the hard way last week.

Hagel went to Singapore to attend a security conference, but what he found was anything but secure as a number of long-standing U.S. allies have found themselves in bitter disputes with China.

Hagel used the forum to criticize the pattern of coercive tactics by the Chinese government in its many maritime and air disputes with its neighbors, especially Japan and South Korea.

In the keynote speech at the conference Hagel implicitly accused China of "intimidation and coercion." He said that " ... in recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea."

That prompted a direct backlash from Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong, one of the top generals in People's Liberation Army. The general seemed especially peeved that Hagel had chosen a conference designed to promote regional unity to deliver such remarks.

"Secretary Hagel, in this kind of public space with many people, openly criticized China without reason," Wang said. "Secretary Hagel's speech is full of encouragement, incitement for the Asia region's instability giving rise to a disturbance."


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Those might not exactly be fighting words in some venues, but in the world of international diplomacy they are the rough equivalent to making a remark about one's mother.

Since World War II, American influence -- both good and bad -- on the world's largest continent has been substantial. But there are signs that U.S. influence there may be waning. The most obvious of which is China's recent massive deal with Vladimir Putin to obtain Russian oil.

Much in the way British economic dominance of the 1920s gave way to American economic superiority in the 1960s the Chinese are trying to assert themselves as a dominant economic force in the region.

And why wouldn't they? Asia's share of global GDP has risen from 20 percent to near 30 percent since 1984. Much of that growth has come on the strength of Asia's prodigious factories, the continent smelts 76 percent of the world's iron and emits roughly 44 percent of its pollution.

And, for as long as there has been a world, business has always followed growth, money and economic power.

So it is easy to see why the world's most populous nation would want to dominate on its own continent. And why Hagel and the nation he represents should be especially worried about such intentions.