Thursday, March 20, 2014

• China's threat: US Pacific Fleet commander warns Asia it risks Crimea-like crisis by Ben Bland in Jakarta


The commander of the US Pacific Fleet has hit out at China’s revanchist tendencies and warned that Asia-Pacific nations must forsake “unilateral actions and inflammatory rhetoric” or risk stumbling into a Crimea-like crisis that would damage the global economy.

Speaking at a security conference in Jakarta on Wednesday, Admiral Harry Harris warned that “the prosperity of all our nations” depends on countries resolving the region’s intractable maritime disputes through multilateral talks.

“Just consider the current global tensions caused by one neighbour against another in the Crimean peninsula,” he told delegates including senior military officials from China, Japan and several southeast Asian nations. “It’s imperative for every nation represented here today that we keep something like that from ever happening in this region of the world.”

China’s increasingly assertive posture in the contested East China and South China seas has deepened disputes with other nations that claim parts of these waters, including Vietnam and US allies Japan and the Philippines.

Analysts say the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia is in part a response to China’s fast-growing naval power and the fear that Beijing’s uncompromising stance could endanger key trade maritime routes.

Admiral Harris, who took charge of the US Pacific Fleet in October, told the Financial Times that maritime tensions in the region were at the highest point he had seen for 30 years because of China’s destabilising influence.

“We welcome the rise of a strong and prosperous China that adheres to international norms,” he said on the sidelines of the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue.
“What worries me though is China’s lack of transparency at times and their revanchist tendencies. I worry about that and I think it’s destabilising in the region.”
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, parts or all of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
While the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been pushing for all the claimants to discuss the disputes on a multilateral basis, China has repeatedly insisted that it will only negotiate bilaterally.

Admiral Harris, who has a Japanese mother and is the highest ranking Asian-American in the US navy, said that while the US does not take positions on the territorial claims themselves, it believes that “the key to the resolution of the disputes is multilateral dialogue, not a series of bilateral dialogues.”
He reiterated US support for a long-discussed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between China and Asean.

He also backed efforts by the Philippines to resolve its dispute with China through the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, a process that Beijing has said it does not recognise.