More warships are ‘raising the risk’ of misfire in South China Sea; ex-President GMA warns of danger

Laura Zhou, South China Morning Post

Posted at Nov 09 2021 06:56 PM

Ex-PH Pres. Arroyo joins senior Chinese diplomats in warning about danger posed by increased military presence

This US Navy photo obtained via AFP
This US Navy photo obtained October 7, 2019 shows the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)(L), and the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 6) and ships from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group underway in formation while conducting security and stability operations in the US 7th Fleet area of operations on October 6, 2019 in the South China Sea. Erwin Jacob V. Miciano, Navy Office of Information via AFP

Senior Chinese diplomats have called on the United States not to show off its power over the South China Sea, as former leaders in Southeast Asia warned of the risk of a misfire in the disputed waters with increasing presence of naval vessels.

Speaking to a South China Sea forum in Sanya, on the southern Chinese island province of Hainan, on Tuesday via video link, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed an unspecified country for seeking to show off its power and maritime dominance.

“We must adhere to multilateralism and jointly maintain maritime order. The ocean is not a zero-sum game of competition, and no one should use the ocean as a tool to impose unilateral power,” Wang said.

“We oppose that certain countries, for the purpose of safeguarding maritime hegemony, flaunt their forces and form cliques at sea, and continue to infringe on the legitimate and lawful rights and interests of other countries.”

China and the US have been stepping up their military presence in the disputed waters, with increasing risks of an accidental clash. Concerns have escalated as the US has teamed up with its allies, including Britain and France, to send naval vessels to the South China Sea, and diplomatic observers have warned the consequences would be more serious if there was a clash between nuclear submarines.

Last month, the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group and the British carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth conducted a series of exercises in the South China Sea. It was the USS Carl Vinson’s ninth visit to the area this year.The South China Sea is heavily contested between China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The US is not a claimant, but accuses Beijing of stoking military tensions and restricting freedom of navigation there, and has said its presence is needed to provide security backup to its Asian allies.

“China calls on the United States to actively consider joining the convention and take concrete actions to participate in the defence of the international maritime rule of law,” he said.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former president of the Philippines, said the tensions and troubles in the South China Sea were posing “grave threats” to stability, and Southeast Asian nations were seriously concerned.

“Imagine what an exchange of fire between warships of the People’s Liberation Army and the US Seventh Fleet would do to stock, currency and commodity markets worldwide,” she asked the forum.

“The world hopes that such an unwelcome event remains pure imagination. But there are reasons to worry. For the first time in years, if not ever, aircraft carrier groups of China and America deployed in the South China Sea at the same time; so did French and British warships. Earlier this year, the presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels near Whitsun Reef led to Philippine diplomatic protests and the exchange of unfriendly words between Manila and Beijing.”

Arroyo said the South China Sea disputes had previously been managed by the expansion of economic and diplomatic ties among the nations involved, and with a balance of power.

“Now, the balance of power approach is increasingly being taken with the growing presence of American and allied forces in the South China Sea, which will get even more formidable with the Aukus, to which the PLA may feel the need to respond,” she said, referring to the deal struck with the US and Britain to help Australia acquire a nuclear submarine fleet.

A Pentagon report last week said China’s navy had expanded to 355 ships and submarines by 2020. It said the Chinese navy had placed a high priority on modernising its submarine forces, operating six nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), and 46 diesel-powered attack submarines (SSs).

But Wu Jianghao, assistant Chinese foreign minister, said China had engaged in discussions with other South China Sea claimants on joint exploration of its resources and a code of conduct.

“We must oppose maritime hegemony, division and confrontation, and build the ocean into a territory where all parties expand cooperation, rather than a zero-sum arena,” he told the forum.

Wu also called on the US to join the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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