Though both sides have pulled away their warships, China and the Philippines are still engaged in a standoff near the Scarborough Shoal: a form of commercial warfare. A Chinese ban on Filipino bananas has left tons of fruit rotting on Filipino docks. China claims that health concerns prompted the ban, but Filipinos see it as retaliation for its Scarborough stand.Beijing’s growing economic power gives it new leverage in the region, and it hasn’t been shy about wielding the weapon:
[Stephen Antig, the director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association,] estimates that as many as 200,000 people in the region will lose their livelihood if China continues to curb imports. Antig had been due to visit China soon to talk to buyers but is going instead to Iran and several Arab countries in search of substitute markets.
There’s also another front in China’s campaign of commercial coercion:
The tourism industry, meanwhile, has been hammered by a rash of abrupt cancellations of vacation bookings from China after a travel advisory issued by Beijing. [Benigno] Aquino [the president of the Philippines], speaking Friday to Washington Post editors and reporters, said: “That advisory, we think, was very unfounded. They were portraying us as being anti-Chinese.’’
Nationalism still drives conflicts between China and its tiny neighbors, and this skirmish over a remote rocky atoll in the South China Sea is a preview for larger contests we might see in the future. Commercial warfare is a strong tool in China’s arsenal, and Beijing is likely to use it again.The truth is, China’s neighbors are looking for an alternative to capitulation or containment; they want a third way—a reasonable relationship with a reasonable China. This third way is what the US is also seeking; the hope is that the wiser heads in China who understand this already can persuade their more short-tempered colleagues that in the great Game of Thrones, less is sometimes more.