Ambassador in Washington raises specter of nuclear war as tensions rise over Second Thomas Bank.

The Philippines’ ambassador to Washington warned that a conflict with China over a disputed reef in the South China Sea could engulf countries across the Indo-Pacific, raising the specter of a possible nuclear war.

Jose Manuel Romualdez said the dispute with China over the Second Thomas Bank had created an incendiary situation. In recent months, the Chinese coast guard has violently blocked Philippine vessels from carrying out supply missions for marines stationed on the Sierra Madre, a ship stranded on the reef.

“It’s the most dangerous moment… weapons of mass destruction are very real,” Romualdez told the Financial Times in an interview. “There are several countries, major powers, that have large arsenals of nuclear weapons.”

“If something happens, the entire Asian region will be completely affected,” he added.

The Second Thomas Bank has become the most dangerous flashpoint in the Indo-Pacific as China employs increasingly aggressive measures — including water cannon fire, dangerous vessel collisions and the use of weapons — to disrupt efforts Filipinos to resupply the marines.

The US has repeatedly warned Beijing that the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty applies to the ship and its crew.

Manila ran the ship aground in 1999 to bolster its claim to the reef. China claims sovereignty over the bank, but an international court rejected its claim in 2016.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday, US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said the crisis was caused by one of many Chinese provocations that could “spark conflicts that would devastate the global economy”.

Asked how a dispute over a reef could trigger a major conflict, Romualdez used the example of the First World War, which was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. recently said the death of a Filipino on the reef would be a “red line.” “It’s an analogy, but it could happen that way,” Romualdez said.

He warned that China was testing US resolve with its actions around the reef. “I don’t think… China should just discard [o tratado de defesa mútua] as something that is not serious, because it is serious,” he said.

Campbell declined to specify the conditions under which the Philippines or the US would invoke the treaty, but said it was important to “establish very clear lines, public and private” about what is necessary to maintain peace and stability.

Romualdez also declined to comment on the circumstances that would invoke the treaty, but said the two allies discussed options.

Speaking before the most recent reef incident on June 17, he warned that the Second Thomas Bank and other disputes in the South China Sea were more dangerous than the situation around Taiwan because Beijing claims most of the South China Sea — although the 2016 tribunal invalidated China’s claim to waters within the “nine-dash line.”

“The South China Sea is an entire area and trillions of dollars [em comércio] pass through this area. Do we really want one country to control this passage? I don’t think so,” Romualdez said.

The dispute comes as the US is strengthening alliances in the Indo-Pacific. The Philippines granted the US military access to four new bases in the country last year, but Manila has not made clear whether the US could use them in the event of a war with China over Taiwan.

Romualdez said the access was intended to improve the Philippines’ defense strategy, not for offensive operations. But he said it was possible Manila could allow the U.S. military to use the bases in a time of war.

“If our defense establishment finds it possible to allow the use of the…sites to defend Taiwan because it will affect us, then we are very likely to agree,” he said.

“We just hope that never happens. But if it happens, obviously countries like the Philippines… will play a role in the Asian scene.”

Via Financial Times.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *