United States is committed to maintaining its presence in the China Sea, said the top U.S. military officer Mike Mullen during a visit to Beijing on Sunday, adding that his country is worried that disputes over the waters may lead to serious conflicts.
China has been embroiled in a dispute with the Philippines and Vietnam in recent months, each government claims a maritime area which straddles key shipping lanes.
“The concern I have is that current events could lead to miscalculation and an outbreak that nobody has anticipated,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the United States at the beginning of a four-day visit to China.
“We have a permanent presence here, we have an enduring responsibility. We seek to firmly support the peaceful resolution of these differences,” he told a news conference.
Despite the security issues raised by claiming disputed waters and increasing China’s military capabilities, military relations between China and the U.S. have thawed in recent months, Mullen’s trip to China is seen as a reciprocal visit to of his Chinese counterpart to Washington in May.
The visit of the Chief of Staff of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Chen Bingde, marked the highest level talks between armies since China severed its ties in early 2010, annoyed by the 6,400 million dollar arms sales to Taiwan.
United States has pledged its support to the Philippines in the South China Sea which is believed to have large reserves of oil and gas. But Beijing insists on handling disputes over the region based on one by one, rather than a multilateral basis, a strategy that some critics have described as “divide and conquer.”
China, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan claim territory in the South China Sea. Beijing’s claim is the largest, forming a huge “U” over much of the 1.7 million square kilometers of ocean, including Spratly archipelagos and Paracelsus.
China and the United States addressed the issue of the China Sea in talks in Hawaii in June, and the issue could dominate the agenda of the forthcoming summit of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asia (ASEAN) in Indonesia.
The official English language China Daily said in an editorial on Friday that ASEAN should not tolerate attempts by outside forces to interfere in bilateral disputes, a slightly veiled criticism of U.S. promises to support the Philippines and proposed exercises military in Vietnam.
“The history of Asia shows that external forces have never worked with the heart totally set on peace and development in Asia,” said the newspaper.
But Mullen, as he emphasized the U.S. desire to see a peaceful solution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, also said Washington would not give up the region.