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Talking can ease South China Sea tensions
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Former Pentagon boss William Cohen has called for Beijing and Washington to enhance their military communication amid tensions in the South China Sea sparked by a confrontation between a United States naval ship and Chinese vessels this month.

"I spent much of my life in public service dealing with military matters and found it becomes very important that we always talk to each other," said Cohen, former US Secretary of Defense under the Clinton administration from 1997 to 2001, in a speech on Friday at the China National School of Administration.

"You're going to get bigger. You're going to get stronger. It's going to create apprehension," he said, adding talks will prevent the issues from "going too far".

The speech came weeks after a US navy surveillance ship confronted five Chinese vessels, in China's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, 120 km south of the island province of Hainan.

Despite the spat with Beijing, the Pentagon ordered the ship to continue operations there and swiftly sent one of its most advanced destroyers to escort it.

Cohen foresaw such emergencies 10 years ago when he proposed a hotline linking his office with that of his Chinese counterpart.

"I thought it was really important that I could pick up the phone and talk to my Chinese counterpart in case we had a collision at sea, or something that might put us into a position of going to war over an incident," Cohen said.

And despite the resumption last month of mid-level defense talks between the two countries, which had been postponed since October due to the Bush administration's massive arms deal to Taiwan, Cohen thought it was far from enough. 

(China Daily March 23, 2009)

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