POSTED: 07:57 p.m. HST, Jan 17, 2012
The U.S. Navy's top commander in the Pacific says he's concerned local arguments in disputed oil rich waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea could escalate into larger, more serious confrontations.
Adm. Patrick Walsh said Tuesday there's potential for an incident in the South China Sea to intensify much the way tensions between China and Japan spiked after ships belonging to the Asian powers collided near the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands claimed by both nations in 2010.
"Quickly the event escalated from something that was local, containable, manageable, to something that became a state-on-state sort of conflict," Walsh told The Associated Press in an interview at his headquarters a few days before he is scheduled to retire and hand over the Pacific Fleet command.
Walsh said the South China Sea — which is heavily traveled by shipping companies, including tankers transporting oil from the Persian Gulf to East Asian nations — is vital to the Asia-Pacific region.
"No matter which perspective you adopt, it's critically important for security and stability. It is the critical node to all the economic activity. Any interruption there would create a real problem," Walsh said.
Six Asian nations — Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam — claim all or part of the Spratlys, which are believed to be rich in natural resources.