War Drums: Singapore's Defense Chief Warns of U.S.-China Conflict

Asia-Pacific leaders understand U.S.-China 'competition,' but they don't want to spark a war.

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A senior Singaporean official is calling for increased American engagement in Asia, warning without it U.S.-China tensions could trigger hostilities—and possibly a war.

During a speech in Washington April 4, Singapore defense chief Ng Eng Hen repeatedly referred to the United States as a "resident power" in Asia, but said the U.S. and China needed to continue their military-to-military contacts for fear of sparking a conflict.

Ng said Asian leaders realize there will be competition between Washington and Beijing, but said any regional security agreements needed to take into account China's rising economic and military influence.

The region "needs a regional security framework which accommodates all stakeholders" and the "rising aspirations" of some, he said.

[Pictures: U.S. Displays Military Power in the Persian Gulf.]

Still, Ng applauded the Obama administration's shift in foreign policy focus from the Middle East to Asia. The recently revised national defense strategy is "a useful reaffirmation" of Washington's view of the region, and its place in it.

While the Singaporean defense chief acknowledged China's growing power, he said the United States "should maintain its dominant role in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sent a veiled message to China in January when he briefed reporters on the administration's new defense strategy, saying the Pentagon is building a smaller Army capable of "defeating any adversary on land," air and naval forces that would "dominate" any foe, while also maintaining a lethal corps of elite commandos.

Former GOP presidential hopeful and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who introduced Ng, called the United States "a Pacific power," and applauded the administration for "looking to reposition [America] in the region."

U.S. involvement—including a robust military presence—has created stability in the region that has allowed nations there to reap the benefits of capitalism, Ng said.

It was clear from several of Ng’s comments that Singaporean and other regional leaders are increasingly concerned about a U.S.-China war.

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