Philippines may get caught in crossfire between U.S., China

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Philippine marines raise the flag on board the BRP Sierra Madre, which the Navy deliberately sank at Saint Thomas Shoal to serve as guard post over waters disputed with China.

(CNN Philippines) — Cannon fire welcomed U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at Pearl Harbor — the site of the infamous Japanese attack that dragged the U.S. into the Second World War IN 1941.

During his visit there, Carter made it clear: The U.S. does not want a war in the South China Sea, part of which Filipinos call the West Philippine Sea.

But Carter was also clear in saying that the U.S. would stand with its allies against provocations from China.

"China's actions are bringing countries in the region together in new ways," he said. "And they're increasing demand for American engagement in the Asia-Pacific, and we're going to meet it. W e will remain the principal power in the asia-pacific for decades to come."

China's Foreign Ministry hit right back, saying the U.S. is "messing up" the Asia-Pacific region and that it's using double standards in addressing the issue.

For China, it's the U.S., along with other claimant countries like the Philippines, who are the intruders.

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was in talks recently with Carter, who affirmed that Washington's alliance with Manila is ironclad.

Chito Santa Romana, a former Beijing bureau chief of ABC News, said that alliance is a double-edged sword.

In an interview on Thursday (May 28) Santa Romana, who's president of the Philippine Association for China Studies, said: "The Philippines, being the treaty ally, you now face the risk of being involved in a great power rivalry. There is a strong possibility that the Philippines could be caught in the crossfire between the two powers."

Just a day before, on Wednesday, the Chinese military released a document stating its strategy in the South China Sea. It shows a shift from defense to the possibility of offense.

Santa Romana pointed out that neither the U.S. nor China would want to start a war.

But if both sides keep tailing each other's military planes and ships in the disputed waters, one false move could  lead to catastrophe.

"The greater risk is that with the two sides now challenging each other, how much restraint can they exercise to minimize the risk of a miscalculation?" Santa Romana said.

The underlying issue, he added, is the power contest between the U.S. and China.

And although the geopolitical situation is increasingly volatile, the strong economic ties between the two nations ensure that they themselves will want to keep their tensions under control.