Tensions in the South China Sea are reaching a crisis point and if Beijing clashes with any state in the region, the US may now be forced to intervene. Chen Xiangmiao, an associate researcher with the National Institute for South China Sea Studies on Hainan Island has warned the US will now take a tougher stance on any actions in the waters by Beijing. With relations at a “tipping” point following the imposition of the Hong Kong security law, Chen warned China must now revise its strategy in the region.
He added: “If there is a maritime clash with rival claimants Vietnam, Malaysia or the Philippines, the US will have an excuse to step in, and that could trigger a direct military conflict between China and the US.
“We used to say that the South China Sea issue could affect overall Sino-US relations.
“But now the South China Sea issue has become part of Washington’s comprehensive strategy to contain China.
“China will need to examine the relationship between the South China Sea issue and overall Sino-US ties.
“But if the relationship between China and the US continues to worsen, then the South China Sea issue could become the tipping point that leads to a military clash.”
The analyst’s warning to China comes as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared US policy in South China was now “crystal clear” to Beijing.
In a bold announcement, he declared the region will not be part of China’s “maritime empire” despite Xi Jinping’s nine-dash line policy.
On Wednesday he said: “On Monday, for the first time, we made our policy on the South China Sea crystal clear.
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China is currently negotiating with the Philippines over the territorial dispute in the Spratly Islands.
Due to the number of allies and military bases in the South China Sea, the US has maintained a strong naval presence in the waters.
Not only has it continued freedom of navigation movements but has also sent the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan to the region.
With this increased presence, Chen did not rule out any counter-response from Beijing.
He said: “China’s actions will depend on the perceived threat from the US.
“If the US or rival claimants such as Vietnam make any unilateral move, I wouldn’t rule out any possibility.”
In order to end the potential for further territorial disputes, China is pushing for a code of conduct with 10 members of the Southeast Asian states.
This has been seen as a move to manage disputes without the potential intervention of the US.