China warns US naval exercise may lead to conflict

Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 01:00

TENSIONS OVER disputed areas in the South China Sea continued to intensify at the weekend as China warned the United States that its joint naval exercise in the region has raised the risk of armed confrontation.

China has territorial disputes with practically everyone in the region about the South China Sea, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, and defence experts believe that the next conflict in the region will probably relate to one or other of these issues.

Recent weeks have seen a maritime standoff between the Philippines and China in disputed sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former US navy base at Subic Bay.

An article in the Liberation Army Daily warned that the standoff could turn into full-on conflict and said it was largely the fault of the US, which has been staging joint military exercises in the region with the Philippine navy. China refers to the area as Huangyan Island, and says it is “an inherent part of China’s territory”.

Earlier this month, American and Filipino troops launched two weeks of annual naval drills around the Philippines. The editorial said the exercises would lead “towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force”.

“Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability,” said the commentary. The paper is the official mouthpiece of China’s People’s Liberation Army.

What defence analysts detect in the region are several potential flashpoints, with China at the centre. “What we see is an arms race among Southeast Asian nations looking at China. There is a perceived threat there, in countries like Vietnam and the Philippines,” said one defence analyst, who asked to remain anonymous.

China’s efforts to boost its military have been intensified since Washington signalled it was increasing its interests in the Pacific, stationing troops in Australia and boosting alliances with Japan and the Philippines, and boosting ties with its old enemy, Vietnam.

For its part, China has developed long-range ballistic missiles with a range of 2,700km (1,680 miles), known as “carrier-killers”, which seem aimed at keeping a lid on any attempts by the US navy to gain maritime dominance in the seas around China.

This has particular repercussions on Washington’s stated aim of defending Taiwan should China ever try to invade the self-ruled island.