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China was 'irresponsible' in stand-off at sea: US
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Dec 19, 2013


Lavish funerals go up in smoke as China orders frugality
Beijing (AFP) Dec 19, 2013 - Chinese officials have been ordered to tone down their increasingly extravagant funerals, state media said Thursday, as Beijing made clear its sweeping austerity crackdown applies even in death.

With concerns mounting that official funerals had become a "platform to show off wealth and connections", party members and officials have been instructed to "set an example with simple, civilised" ceremonies, the state Xinhua news agency reported.

Rising displays of opulence and a trend for the number of mourners in attendance to be seen as a sign of the deceased's "achievements" were sparking competition among the living, prompting Communist Party leaders to call for more modest ceremonies, it said.

Officials have also been banned from collecting "condolence money" from attendees and from "superstitious practices".

"Party members and officials should set an example with simple, civilized funerals," Xinhua quoted a document issued by China's State Council and the Communist Party's Central Committee as saying.

"No funeral parlours should be set up in resident communities, streets and public venues," the memo said. "Superstitious practices should be avoided."

The document also suggested officials donate their organs after death, choose "cremation or other environmentally-friendly form of disposal", and ensure gravestones do not exceed "set standards".

Land in cemeteries in Beijing and Shanghai can hit tens of thousands of US dollars per half-metre plot, exceeding even the cost of housing in the cities, Xinhua news agency said.

Beijing's year-long drive against the decadence practised by Communist Party officials has seen popular delicacy shark fin banned from banquets and party members warned over accepting expensive gifts such as traditional baijiu liquor.

China acted in an "irresponsible" way in a stand-off with a US naval ship this month in the South China Sea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday.

US officials have said that the USS Cowpens, a guided missile cruiser, had to take evasive action to avoid a collision with a Chinese vessel that had come dangerously close in the December 5 incident.

"That action by the Chinese, cutting in front ...100 yards out in front of the Cowpens, was not a responsible action," Hagel told a news conference.

"It was unhelpful, it was irresponsible."

Hagel said the maritime confrontation, the first reported for several years, pointed to the need for clear protocols between the two militaries to avoid a potential clash in the Pacific.

"That's the kind of thing that's very incendiary, that could be a trigger or a spark that could set off some eventual miscalculation," he said.

The two sides needed to work "to have a mechanism to be able to defuse some of these issues as they occur," Hagel said.

"We're working on it," he added.

His comments were the first public reaction by a top official at the Pentagon since the incident two weeks ago.

The near-collision underlined rising tensions after Beijing last month declared an expanded air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, which Washington and its Asian allies have refused to recognize.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the same press conference that American and Chinese military officers have been meeting to draft rules for when the two militaries encounter each other at sea, in the air or in cyberspace.

He said "those working groups have actually been meeting and making some progress."

China has played down the incident, saying its naval forces followed proper procedures

"During the encounter, the Chinese naval vessel strictly followed protocol and handled (the incident) appropriately," said a recent short statement from the Chinese defense ministry.

The statement also said the two defense departments "communicated effectively" during the incident.

Chinese state media, however, had said the US ship posed a "threat."

According to US military officers, the Chinese vessel involved was an amphibious dock ship, part of a flotilla accompanying Beijing's new Liaoning aircraft carrier.

The confrontation occurred in the strategic South China Sea, where Beijing has asserted control over territory claimed by other countries in the region.

The US military has repeatedly vowed to keep operating in international waters and airspace, and has increased its presence in Southeast Asia over the past year as a counter-balance to Beijing's more assertive regional stance.

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