A military confrontation could ensue between the United States and China if the latter starts reclamation activities in the disputed Scarborough Shoal off the coast of the Philippines, a retired US Admiral said on Thursday.
Retired US Navy Admiral Dennis Blair warned China that it would be at the losing end should a clash take place between Beijing and the United States and its allies in the Philippines over ownership of the disputed shoal.
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“If the Chinese push there, I think there’s going to be trouble,” said Blair, the former head of the Pacific Command who once oversaw US forces in the South China Sea region.
Blair said China would have no chance of winning in the event of a maritime clash considering the setup of the US and Philippine military forces in the disputed waters.
“And it’s the kind of trouble that the United States and the Philippines are going to win because the military situation is set up that way,” he emphasized.
In a bid to expand its maritime reach and assert power in the South China Sea, Blair said China has deployed a ‘fishing militia’ to the contested waters. He noted that China is trying to expansion its influence in the region by building artificial islands on reefs and constructing military facilities in disputed shoals and islands in the past two years.
Stepped up patrols
China and the United States have been trading barbs over the issue of ownership of the strategic waterway as the two superpowers have stepped up their respective patrols of naval ships, planes, and fighter jets in the disputed waters.
Blair said the deployments have resulted in ‘shadow boxing’ between the two nations, but so far, the risk of conflict remains relatively low.
The admiral said that it was a different matter altogether in the case of the Spratly group of islands where multiple Southeast Asian countries are laying claim to the disputed waters. Beijing is pitted directly against Manila over ownership of the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
Blair said Manila has a strong legal case against China over ownership of the shoal, which is located just 150 miles from the Philippines and 500 miles from Beijing.
A ruling on the territorial case Manila filed against Beijing before the international Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague, Netherlands is due to be handed down this month. Many analysts believe that the ruling will go against the mainland.
The case seeks to nullify China’s claims to the disputed waters which include the Scarborough Shoal.
China has publicly announced that it does not recognize the jurisdiction of the arbitration court and that any ruling handed down will be ignored by Beijing.
Blair said the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between Washington and Manila could be invoked by the Philippines if it needs to militarily defend its sovereignty to what it considers its territories such as the Scarborough Shoal.
Under the treaty, the US and the Philippines would support each other if either the Philippines or the United States were to be attacked by an external party.
“I would be surprised if the United States hasn’t told China it’s a shoal too far for them,” Blair said in a news briefing at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, where he serves as CEO.
“It hasn’t been said publicly, but I hope we have done so privately,” he added.
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