Singapore’s defense minister warns about the risk of an incident involving non-military vessels in the South China Sea as China deploys heavily armed coast guard vessels in the disputed waters.
China has used its so-called white hull fleet to chase and shoo ships including fishing boats from other countries away from the reefs it claims, Bloomberg reports.
A practical concern for nations whose ships travel through the South China Sea is how to develop processes to defuse incidents as they occur, Minister Ng Eng Hen said.
“It may have, in fact, very little to do with military ships” given an agreed code in place for navies, he told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting among US and Southeast Asian defense ministers in Hawaii.
“But you may have incidents arising from fishing, you may have incidents arising from white ships,” he said.
“Whatever color ships they are, they can precipitate incidents.”
Singapore is not a claimant in the South China Sea, and Ng said China is “not a threat to us”.
Still, it has called for a reduction in tensions and for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take a more united approach to resolving the disputes.
“We are interested in the South China Sea because it is a major shipping route, and a lot of economies depend on it,” Ng said. “We think that uncertainty may lead to incidents.”
About US$5 trillion worth of trade passes through the shipping lane each year.
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