‘Armed clashes in South China Sea possible next year’
Jose Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - December 17, 2014 - 12:00am

WASHINGTON – A military clash between China and one or more Southeast Asian nations involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea has a 50-50 chance of occurring in 2015, the Council on Foreign Relations said.

The Washington-based think tank rated the sea controversy as one of 10 top US conflict prevention priorities in the coming year.

The CFR’s Center for Preventive Action upgraded from low to moderate the likelihood of territorial and jurisdictional disputes in the South China Sea escalating into fighting.

A low rating means a contingency is improbable to highly unlikely, a moderate rating means it has an even chance of occurring while a high rating means the contingency is probable to highly likely to occur.

The CFR said Washington’s defense treaty with Manila could draw it into a Sino-Philippine conflict over substantial natural gas deposits in the disputed Reed (Recto) Bank or the lucrative fishing grounds of the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.

The failure of Chinese and Southeast Asian leaders to resolve the disputes by diplomatic means could undermine international laws governing maritime disputes and encourage destabilizing arms buildups, it said.

Leading experts who took part in the CFR’s 7th annual preventive priorities survey said an intensification of the crisis in Iraq due to advances by the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was the top conflict prevention priority for US policymakers in 2015.

The rankings based on events likely to occur in 2015 and their effects on US interests were compiled by more than 2,200 government officials, academics and foreign policy experts. 

Of the 10 high-priority contingencies, respondents rated only one – the Iraq crisis – as both highly probable and highly consequential.

The nine other US conflict prevention priorities in 2015 listed by the think tank are large-scale attack on the US homeland or ally, cyber attack on US critical infrastructure, severe North Korean crisis, renewed threat of Israeli military strikes against Iran, armed confrontation in the South China Sea, escalation of the Syrian civil war, rising violence and instability in Afghanistan, increased fighting in eastern Ukraine and heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

CHINESE AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN FOREIGN RELATIONS ISLAMIC STATE OF IRAQ AND SYRIA ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN NORTH KOREAN PANATAG PREVENTIVE ACTION SINO-PHILIPPINE SOUTH CHINA SEA SOUTHEAST ASIAN
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