MANILA - China has to learn to "play by the rules" and the Philippines must sharply boost its defences to keep South China Sea territorial spats from escalating, two former US officials said Friday.
The Philippines has consistently accused China of aggressively pressing its claim to most of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of neighbours like the Philippines, raising tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.
Speaking at the sidelines of a maritime security forum in Manila, ex-US defence undersecretary Walter Slocombe stressed that no one wanted to see a confrontation with China over territory.
"We (military allies the Philippines and the United States) must find a way to defend our interests and our sovereignty, the rule of law and the proposition that issues like this are to be resolved peacefully and not by the threat of the use of force."
He warned: "There is a real danger of an incident blowing up and becoming a source of a much bigger conflict."
Dennis Blair, former commander of US forces in the Pacific, added: "We have to convince China that as it involves the rest of the region and the world in solving its problems, it has to play by the rules whether those rules are in business, diplomacy or in military force."
Both men said they could not fully explain why China was now pressing its territorial claims.