A miscalculation can pitch the heightened tensions in the East China Sea into a conflagration no one wants to see, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam cautioned Friday, adding that wisdom required these disputes be shelved to let commerce continue.
"I think there is a serious risk of miscalculation," Mr Shanmugam said when Straits Times Editor Warren Fernandez asked him for his reading of the rising tensions across the Pacific in a session at the second Straits Times Global Outlook Forum Friday.
Tensions have escalated rapidly after China's sudden declaration last Saturday of an Air Defence Identification Zone over a vast area that covers islands and territory claimed by China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.
In response, the United States, Japan and South Korea defiantly flew military aircraft through the area without notifying China as it demanded. In turn, China sent its warplanes there.
Mr Shanmugam said the situation was worrying. "An incident can easily happen and we, the rest of the world, are to some extent hostage to what some ship captain might do. And how he might get us all involved in a major conflagration that no one wants."
He saw nationalism as the underlying factor in the nations' response. "No leader of any of these countries can be seen to be giving up on territorial sovereignty. Not in China, not in Japan, certainly not in the US, not in Korea."