The US military’s commander in the Pacific on Friday called for compromise in Asia’s worsening maritime territorial rows, cautioning against a “winner-take-all” strategy that some nations fear China is pursuing.
US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Samuel Locklear said the region had become the
world’s “most militarized” amid rapid economic growth, deepening the importance of dialogue to ensure the disputes did not lead to armed conflict.
“What’s going to underline that most important is a commitment to the rule of law, a commitment to international forums to solve problems and to solve disputes,” Locklear told a World Economic Forum meeting in Manila.
“You can’t have a winner-take-all attitude. It will require compromise. It will require dialogue.”
Locklear was speaking about the various territorial disputes in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea to Manila) and East China Sea that have endured for decades but worsened in recent years amid perceived rising Chinese assertiveness.
China claims most of the South China Sea, even waters close to the shores of its neighbors and more than 1,000 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese landmass.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, as well as Taiwan, claim parts of the sea, which is home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas.
The disputes have for decades been regarded as a potential trigger for military conflict, and those concerns have risen amid the rising tensions between China and some of its neighbors, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam.
China sent a deep-water oil drilling rig into contested waters in the sea this month, sparking violent protests in Vietnam in which at least four Chinese were reported killed.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said on Wednesday that China’s decision to deploy the oil rig had “seriously threatened peace.”
Locklear also defended US efforts to build up security alliances in Asia, including with countries having territorial disputes with China, following criticism by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
He said these alliances, some going back to the end of World War II, had “generally underwritten security” in the region.
“Things that we’ve done here have helped our economy, have helped the global economy and I would say it have helped China as [they]had helped everybody in this region as well,” Locklear added.
Xi voiced concern also on Wednesday at a Chinese-run security forum in Shanghai over the United States deepening its military alliances in Asia, indicating China felt it was being targeted.
“To beef up an entrenched or military alliance targeted at a third party is not conducive to maintaining common security,” Xi told regional security forum.