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Asia fears China military conflict over sea claims: study

WASHINGTON--China's neighbors are increasingly anxious that Beijing's maritime disputes with countries like Vietnam and the Philippines will lead to military conflict, a U.S. research group said in findings released Monday.

Even in China itself, polling showed that 62 percent of the public worried that territorial disputes between China and its neighbors could lead to an armed conflict, according to a broad study conducted in 44 countries by the Pew Research Center.

“This year in all 11 Asian nations polled, roughly half or more say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbors will lead to a military conflict,” the study found.

At 93 percent, Filipinos were most concerned, followed by the Japanese at 85 percent, Vietnamese at 84 percent and South Koreans at 83 percent, according to Pew.

Beijing and Hanoi in particular are embroiled in an increasingly heated territorial row, the latest chapter of which was sparked by China's positioning of a major oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam.

But the Asian giant has also seen tensions rise with Japan and the Philippines, both of which claim Beijing has taken inappropriate steps in the East and South China Seas, where claims of several island chains are under dispute.

According to the report, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam see China as the greatest threat, while China as well as Malaysia and Pakistan list the United States as the biggest threat.

Every other Asian nation surveyed, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Thailand, see the United States as their greatest ally — although Indonesia also sees America as its greatest threat.

Among citizens of the 44 nations surveyed, 40 percent said they believe the United States was the world's present-day super power, compared to 49 percent who said so in 2008.

The number who considered China the leading super power, meanwhile, rose from 19 percent six years ago to 31 percent today.

Fifty percent of respondents said China would eventually replace or has already replaced the United States in that role, compared to just 32 percent who said China would never do so.

Across the nations surveyed, excluding China, 49 percent of people expressed a favorable opinion of China, compared to 32 percent unfavorable.

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