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And another US-based academic has said even a small confrontation in the disputed waterway has the potential to escalate to disastrous effect into a war which “everybody would lose”, admitting the prospect was “very scary”. Hu Bo, director of the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) was speaking days after David Stilwell, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell issued a warning in respect of Scarborough Shoal, an uninhabited island claimed by the Philippines.
Mr Stilwell said any attempt by China to occupy, reclaim, or militarise the remote island “would be a dangerous move” which would have “lasting and severe consequences”.
However, Hu said any use of force in the region was fraught with risk.
He explained: “This is basically impossible, as the US knows this will lead to an all-out war.”
Unfortunately, there is possibility of an armed confrontation
China would undoubtedly retaliate, he said, with no certainties about when – or if – hostilities would end.
He added: “Maybe the US could start an armed conflict, but it would be up to more than the US to decide how this conflict would end, as China will and must safeguard its bottom line and dignity no matter how much it wants to maintain China-US relations.”
Ezra Vogel, Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and a leading US scholar on East Asian affairs, expressed the same concern in an exclusive interview with the Global Times.
He said: “Unfortunately, there is possibility of an armed confrontation. Nobody wants it, and everybody would lose if a war erupts.
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“But if you look at what happened in World War I, for example, it was started by a little event, and then the larger countries quickly became involved even though they had not planned to.
Mr Vogel added: “If there is a little scuffle in the South China Sea, it could soon escalate.
“And if the countries fail to control it, it could be devastating and everybody would lose. It is very scary.”
Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University of China’s School of International Studies in Beijing, told the Global Times newspaper she had been taken by surprise by the rapid deterioration of US-Sino relations.
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He added: “Direct China-US military conflicts, or even the severance of diplomatic ties, which used to be unimaginable, are being discussed more frequently by the mainstream media outlets and scholars, so the danger of military conflicts exists and is growing.”
The tension was underlined this week after the US and Australia issued a joint statement in which they voiced “deep concern” over China’s behaviour in relation to Hong Kong, Taiwan, the treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang as well as its maritime claims in the South China Sea.
China’s embassy in Australia hit back in a strongly worded statement in which it rejected what it described as “unfounded accusations”.
The statement added: “Their assertions, in disregard of basic facts, violated international law and basic norms governing international relations and grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs.
“We reiterate that the Chinese side is unwavering in upholding national sovereignty, security and its legitimate rights and interests.
“We are firmly committed to maintaining regional peace and stability. Any attempt to pressure China will never succeed.”
After a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper, Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds today confirmed they had agreed to pursue “increased and regularised maritime cooperation” in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean “bilaterally and in concert with other like-minded and regional partners”.
However, Australia has stopped short of committing to conducting freedom of navigation exercises within 12 nautical miles of disputed features – of which Scarborough Shoal is an example.
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