(Adds Pentagon comment, paragraphs 7-8)
By Chris Buckley
BEIJING, April 21 China's military warned the
United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military
exercises have raised risks of armed confrontation over the
disputed South China Sea, in the toughest high-level warning yet
after weeks of tension.
China's official Liberation Army Daily warned that recent
jostling with the Philippines over disputed seas where both
countries have sent ships could boil over into outright
conflict, and laid much of the blame at Washington's door.
American and Filipino troops launched two weeks of annual
naval drills on April 16 amid the stand-off between Beijing and
Manila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign
seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base
at Subic Bay.
The joint exercises are held in different seas around the
Philippines. The leg that takes place in the South China Sea
area, which could be rich in oil and gas and is spanned by busy
shipping lanes, starts on Monday.
"Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these
drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China
Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation
and resolution through armed force," said the commentary in the
Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People's
"Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United
States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation
towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a
massive impact on regional peace and stability."
The Pentagon said this was a regular exercise "not tied to
any current situation."
"The focus of this year's exercise is on disaster response
and civic assistance," said Pentagon spokeswoman, Navy Commander
Up to now, China has chided the Philippines over the dispute
about the uninhabited shoal known in the Philippines as the
Panatag Shoal and which China calls Huangyan, about 124 nautical
miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon.
China has territorial disputes with the Philippines,
Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan across the South China Sea.
Major General Luo Yuan, a retired PLA researcher well-known
for his hawkish views, amplified the warnings from Beijing
issued through state media.
"China has already shown enough restraint and patience over
this incident," Luo said of the friction with Manila, according
to an interview published on Chinese state television's website
If the Philippines "takes irrational actions, then the
current confrontation could intensify, and the Chinese navy will
certainly not stand idly by," he added.
Beijing has sought to resolve the disputes one-on-one with
the countries involved but there is worry among its neighbours
over what some see as growing Chinese assertiveness in staking
claims over the seas and various islands, reefs and shoals.
In past patches of tension over disputed seas, hawkish
Chinese military voices have also risen, only to be reined in
later by the government. The same could be true this time.
Since late 2010, China has sought to cool tensions with the
United States. Especially with the ruling Chinese Communist
Party preoccupied with a leadership succession late in 2012,
Beijing has stressed hopes for steady relations throughout this
Nonetheless, experts have said China remains wary of U.S.
military intentions across the Asia-Pacific, especially after
the Obama administration's vows to "pivot" to the region,
reinvigorating diplomatic and security ties with allies.
The Liberation Army Daily commentary echoed that wariness.
"The United States' intention of trying to draw more
countries into stirring up the situation in the South China Sea
is being brandished to the full," said the newspaper.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; editing by
Sanjeev Miglani and Mohammad Zargham)