Dispute over oil rich islands in South China Sea could escalate into 'state-on-state conflict', U.S. admiral warns
Tensions: Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Patrick Walsh has said claims by six Asian nations on the oil-rich Spratly Islands in the South China Sea could descend into conflict
The U.S. Navy's top commander in the Pacific has said disputes over oil rich waters in the South China Sea could blow up into serious military confrontations.
Admiral Patrick Walsh said a diplomatic row between six Asian nations over the Spratly Islands could escalate into a 'state-on-state conflict' as countries attempt to seize new oil resources.
The South China Sea - which is heavily travelled by shipping companies, including tankers transporting oil from the Persian Gulf - is vital to the Asia-Pacific region.
Adm Walsh said there was potential for an incident to intensify, in the same way tensions between China and Japan spiked after two of their ships collides near the disputed Senkaku and Diaoyu islands in 2010.
'Quickly the event escalated from something that was local, containable, manageable, to something that became a state-on-state sort of conflict.
'No matter which perspective you adopt, it's (the South China Sea) critically important for security and stability. It is the critical node to all the economic activity.
'Any interruption there would create a real problem.'
The disputed Spratly Islands are made up of more than 750 individual islands, with a total surface area of less than two square miles.
The group of islands is spread over a 164,093 square miles area off the coasts of the Philippines and Sabah in Malaysian Borneo. None of them have any native population, although some have military personnel in bases.
Disputed: An aerial photo of Pag-asa Island, one of more than 750 that make up the Spratly Islands disputed by Brunei, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, The Philippines and Taiwan.
Ownership: China, Vietnam, The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all claim the Spratly Islands
The six Asian nations - Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam - claim all or part of the islands. 18th and 19th century maps from China and Vietnam both claim the islands as part of their territory.
There have been various recriminations between the nations over competing claims in recent years.
In May last year, Chinese naval vessels fired on Vietnamese fishing vessels near East London Reef and Cross Island.
Competing claims: Chinese structures built on one of the islands taken in 1998. Nine years ago the six countries in dispute were due to sign an accord preventing conflict
Security: Another photograph shows military structures built by China in 1995. In the last year there have been reports of Chinese naval vessels firing on Vietnamese fishing boats in the area
SIMMERING TENSIONS OVER OIL
Originally, China claimed to have incorporated the islands in around 200 BC.
But the modern history of the area began when Japan held the Spratly Islands during the Second World War, but left after surrendering.
During the 1960s and 1970s, The Philippines and South Vietnam took control of several islands.
China and Malaysia also began claiming some of the islands in the late 1970s.
By the mid 1980s, China and Vietnam were clashing over some of the disputed islands, but the 1989 outrage in Tiananmen Square forced China to back down.
All six Asian nations agreed the Manila declaration to avoid conflict in the area in 1992 and a similar move was extended in 2002.
By 2005, Vietnam, China and The Philippines sign an accord to protect oil and gas in the region.
But by last year, tensions are again raised after a series of stand offs between rival navy or other shipping. The Philippines and Vietnam have both accused China of attempting to sabotage oil exploration work in the area.
The Philippines and Vietnam have accused Chinese vessels of repeatedly intruding into areas they claim and of trying to sabotage oil explorations in their territorial waters.
China has denied the allegations, saying it has sovereignty over the South China Sea.
And in June 2011, the Philippines renamed the South China Sea and the Reed Bank the West Philippine Sea and the Recto Bank.
Two years ago, Japan arrested the Chinese captain of a fishing vessel after it collided with one of its coast guard ships on patrol.
In retaliation, Beijing suspended ministerial-level contacts with Tokyo and postponed talks on the joint development of undersea natural gas fields.
It later halted Japan-bound exports of rare earth metals used in high-tech manufacturing.
Adm Walsh added: 'Just how quickly that escalated - it inflamed passions on both sides. That's my concern.'
He is due to retire and hand over the Pacific Fleet command to Vice Admiral Cecil Haney on Friday.
The islands are thought to have large oil and gas reserves around them, but they area also areas of rich biodiversity and wildlife, home to endangered species including sharks and turtles.
### Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk ###
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