The defense secretary of the Philippines has warned of the growing risk of conflict in the South China Sea and claimed that if a war erupts, his country will be involved whether the people like it or not.

National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a speech on Wednesday that the Philippines will get dragged into a conflict between the US and China if tensions continue to escalate. 

Lorenzana, a retired army general, claimed the confrontation between China and the US and its allies was the most concerning security challenge in the Indo-Pacific region. 

“While the US and China continue to assert that their actions are defensive, the danger of miscalculation is ever present, like the near collision of two frigates belonging to the US and China two years ago,” he said. 

The Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations have been at loggerheads with Beijing over sovereignty in the contested South China Sea, of which China claims 90 percent.  

The recent decision of the Chinese government to arm their coast guard vessels patrolling the South China Sea has upped the ante even more, and if a shooting war happens, the Philippines, which is right smack in the middle of the conflict, will be involved whether [the country] likes it or not. 

Washington reaffirmed its commitment to Manilla’s territorial claim in the potentially energy-rich South China Sea on Monday. 

On a visit to the Philippines capital, President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, Robert O’Brien, told the gathered media, “our message is we’re going to be here, we’ve got your back, and we’re not leaving.” 

Beijing vehemently opposes US intervention in the Philippines and the region as a whole.

In a statement released on Monday evening, the Chinese embassy in Manila said: “We firmly oppose these remarks which are full of Cold War mentality and wantonly incite confrontation. It shows that his visit to this region is not to promote regional peace and stability, but to create chaos in the region in order to seek the selfish interests of the US.” 

Relations between the two global superpowers have deteriorated considerably this year as Washington increasingly stepped up pressure on Beijing.

Tensions were heightened further after an admiral of the US Navy made an unannounced visit to Taiwan over the weekend. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing would enact a “necessary” response to yet another attempt by Washington to undermine China’s domestic interests.

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