Near the remote Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, Filipino and Chinese ships continue their standoff over a month after the crisis first began. Now China is turning to new weapons to make the Philippines back down.The WSJ reports:
Several leading Chinese travel agents said Thursday they have suspended tourism to the Philippines as relations between the countries worsen over a standoff between government vessels around disputed islands in the South China Sea.Representatives from CYTS Tours Holding Co. and Ctrip.com International, Ltd., two of China’s largest tour providers, said Thursday the companies had decided to cancel individual and group trips to the Philippines, citing political uncertainty. . . .Also on Wednesday, China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine ordered stepped-up quarantine of fruit imports from the Philippines, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. The report said regulators found harmful organisms in several shipments of fruit imports, but it did not provide specifics.
So, will China’s economic clout force the Philippines to give way? This situation is worth watching as the world tries to figure out the new power equations in Asia. The US has promoted the rise of a maritime Asian association including countries from Korea around through the Philippines and Indonesia and sweeping over to India. Some of these countries are in treaty relationships with the US or with each other, some are not — but all are concerned about China’s assertive moves in the region.China can’t fight this arrangement militarily, but some think that if China could find ways to use the power of its markets and its growing economy it could begin to weaken the association. What we are seeing in the Philippines right now is more than a local spat; it is a test of two theories of Asian power.What’s more, it’s worth watching because even these relatively low level conflicts have a way of pulling in the United States. As a CFR report describes,
The United States could be drawn into a China-Philippines conflict because of its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines. The treaty states, “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.” American officials insist that Washington does not take sides in the territorial dispute in the South China Sea and refuse to comment on how the United States might respond to Chinese aggression in contested waters. Nevertheless, an apparent gap exists between American views of U.S. obligations and Manila’s expectations. In mid-June 2011, a Filipino presidential spokesperson stated that in the event of armed conflict with China, Manila expected the United States would come to its aid. Statements by senior U.S. officials may have inadvertently led Manila to conclude that the United States would provide military assistance if China attacked Filipino forces in the disputed Spratly Islands.
As yet there are no established channels to resolve disputes on conflicting claims between China and its neighbors over South China Sea territory, and even within China various forces compete with each other in this arena. An orderly resolution of the Scarborough standoff, one hopes, could set a precedent for resolving similar confrontations in the future. Stay tuned.