January 9, 2019 / 12:53 PM / 10 months ago

U.S. to blame if any South China Sea clash: Chinese researcher

BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. naval operations in the South China Sea could spark conflict and the United States would be to blame if a clash occurred, a Chinese military researcher said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: The Ronald Reagan Strike Group ship's the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) and the guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) conduct a photo exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship's the helicopter destroyer JS Kaga (DDH 184), the destroyer JS Inazuma (DD 105) and the destroyer JS Suzutsuki (DD 117) in the South China Sea August 31, 2018. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erwin Jacob V. Miciano/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

The warning came as Chinese and U.S. trade teams ended talks in Beijing that have raised hopes an all-out trade war could be avoided, but fears remain that strategic tension between two countries are growing.

“Both countries warships definitely have to come into close proximity and it’s easy for there to be a misunderstanding or an error of judgment, even a collision,” Zhang Junshe, a researcher at China’s PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told reporters.

“If there is a collision, the root cause is the United States.”

On Monday a U.S. guided-missile destroyer sailed near disputed islands the South China Sea in what China called a “provocation”, just as the trade talks began.

Zhang said whenever U.S. warships entered waters that China claimed, China had no option but to send warships to deal with them.

Since Trump took office, there have been 14 incidents of U.S. Navy vessel entering waters that China claims to carry out what the U.S. military calls freedom of navigation operations, Zhang said.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea and denounces the United States and its allies over naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands.

Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan have competing claims in the region.

He Lei, former vice president of China’s Academy of Military Sciences, said “foreign forces” that attempted to prevent the unification of China and Taiwan could compel Beijing to use force to bring the self-ruled island under its control.

“Foreign forces that pose as world police to interfere in China’s affairs, to obstruct and damage China’s unification, are the main culprits that could force the mainland to use force to resolve the Taiwan issue,” he told reporters.

U.S. President Donald Trump last week signed into law the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, which reaffirms the U.S. commitment to Taiwan, including arms sales.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Jan. 2 said nobody could change the fact Taiwan was part of China.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Robert Birsel

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