BEIJING – US naval operations in the South China Sea could spark conflict and the United States would be to blame if a clash occurred, a Chinese military researcher said on Wednesday.
The warning came as Chinese and U.S. trade teams ended talks in Beijing that have raised hopes an all-out trade war could be avoided, but fears remain that strategic tension between two countries are growing.
“Both countries warships definitely have to come into close proximity and it’s easy for there to be a misunderstanding or an error of judgment, even a collision,” Zhang Junshe, a researcher at China’s PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told reporters.
“If there is a collision, the root cause is the United States.”
On Monday a US guided-missile destroyer sailed near disputed islands the South China Sea in what China called a “provocation”, just as the trade talks began.
Zhang said whenever US warships entered waters that China claimed, China had no option but to send warships to deal with them.
Since Trump took office, there have been 14 incidents of U.S. Navy vessel entering waters that China claims to carry out what the U.S. military calls freedom of navigation operations, Zhang said.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea and denounces the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan have competing claims in the region. (Reuters)