Wednesday, November 9, 2011

U.S. Pacific Fleet Head Warns of Tactical Missteps

HONG KONG - The U.S. 7th Fleet commander said Nov. 9 he was not worried about a major conflict in Asia but about small incidents with unpredictable consequences in areas such as the South China Sea.
Vice Adm. Scott Swift said military-to-military dialogue between Washington and Beijing was taking place at the highest levels of command and both sides shared a desire to minimize tensions.
"I think we are in a very positive place with China and the vectors are moving in the right direction," he told reporters in Hong Kong, where the George Washington aircraft carrier was making a visit. "We need to be as transparent as we possibly can."
But he said areas such as the potentially resource-rich South China Sea, where several countries including China have territorial and maritime claims, required greater cooperation to avoid dangerous flare-ups over minor incidents.
"In general terms I'm concerned about any tactical trigger with strategic implications," Swift said.
Swift said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had made "significant progress" in encouraging dialogue between the rival claimants to the sea, which stretches off China's southern coast into vital sea lanes.
"There's not much that keeps me up at night, and I'm not worried about a major conflict breaking out anywhere in the region," he said. "I do have concerns about a specific brush-up that could result in a tactical miscalculation, but I think rapid compromise will prevail and those incidents will be appropriately adjudicated at the diplomatic level."
Swift's visit to Hong Kong, the autonomous southern Chinese harbor city formerly ruled by Britain, comes as Washington talks up Asia's strategic importance to the United States.
In his first trip to the Asia-Pacific region since taking over at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month that the United States wanted to strengthen its presence in the Pacific.

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