The top American military commander in the Pacific issued a stern warning to any country that might try to seize control of disputed areas in the South China Sea:
“We will oppose the change of status quo by force by anyone,” Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said during a visit to Malaysia on Wednesday. “We need to retain the status quo until we get to a code of conduct or a solution by party nations that is peacefully accepted.”
While Locklear did not mention China by name, China has been aggressively asserting its sovereignty over the disputed areas while some of its neighbors, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, are also defending their claims with diplomatic might.
China’s neighbors have been pushing for a code of conduct with China designed to ease tensions, but Beijing has not been clear about its desire for such a code.
However, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Joe Yun, said in Washington on Wednesday that China and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have reached an understanding that formal negotiations for a code would start later this year.
Locklear said a code of conduct would allow the military “to understand the boundaries of what they can do in the best interest for a peaceful solution,” adding that he didn’t think tensions in the area were likely to escalate because the countries involved “understand this could be a long process, they understand restraint.”
While China has sought to resolve disputes through bilateral negotiations, Locklear indicated a preference for multilateral talks.
“It seems to me that when you have a collective perspective, it is more viable in the long run,” Locklear said. “You can’t get through a complex situation without give and take. So I think in the long run, there will be a compromise.”