US Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear on Thursday said he did not believe the ongoing dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) would deteriorate into a military conflict.
Addressing the Asia Society in Washington, Locklear stressed the importance of “getting through” problems in the East China Sea and the South China Sea “without bringing war ships and war planes” into the arena.
“Difficulties need to be sorted out,” he said, adding it was imperative to avoid miscalculation.
The problems were not going to “go away” he said and military conflict in the region would be “too disruptive to the global security environment.”
He said the gains of a military conflict would not be worth the losses.
“What concerns me about the South China Sea is the potential for a miscalculation at a low level, where it is not coordinated between governments and military leadership,” he said.
Miscalculation could “just kind of happen” and then escalate, he added.
“If the nations involved are thoughtful about this we can avoid that, but the possibility for miscalculation will not go away,” Locklear said.
The admiral refused to comment or give his views on the potential sale of F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan, saying that he would leave that issue to others. In the case of the Dioayutais, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, he had not seen the need to think about the possibility of military escalation.
“The global media interprets things and tries to see things that sometimes aren’t there,” he said.
Now that China has been invited to join the RIMPAC exercise in 2014, Locklear was asked if Taiwan might also be invited to join. He chose to duck the question and said he would leave it for diplomats and the US Department of State to answer.
At a Pentagon news conference earlier in the day, the admiral said that with regard to territorial disputes in the region, all parties “including the Chinese” should avoid conflict and miscalculation.
“It’s important as we go forward to ensure that all parties remain calm about these things and that we don’t unnecessarily introduce warfighting apparatus into these decisions or into these discussions,” he said.
Locklear praised the current state of the military-to-military relationship between the US and China.
“We have a growing ability to have a dialogue at the military level that’s frank and open,” he said.