TOKYO — China and other Asian countries could end up at war over territorial disputes if governments keep up their “provocative behavior”, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday.
Speaking to reporters before arriving in Tokyo on a trip to Asia, Panetta appealed for restraint amid mounting tensions over territorial rights in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
“I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands, that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict,” Panetta said, when asked about a clash between Japan and China.
“And that conflict would then have the potential of expanding.”
The Pentagon chief’s trip coincides with an escalating row between Asia’s two largest economies over an archipelago in the East China Sea administered by Tokyo under the name Senkaku and claimed by China under the name Diaoyu.
Panetta said he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “both strongly urge that these countries — rather than engaging in that provocative behavior — engage in an effort to find ways to peacefully resolve these kind of issues.”
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea also have Washington worried, as China has refused to withdraw claims to virtually all of the strategic waterway and has been accused of bullying smaller states in the area.
The Philippines and Vietnam have alleged Beijing has used intimidation to push its claims in the South China Sea, through which around half of the world’s cargo passes. — AFP