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"Top Gun" Diplomacy
Vietnam, Philippines Fight China with Beer and Volleyball

In scenes reminiscent of the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun, sailors from the Vietnamese and Filipino navies will soon throw a beer-soaked beach volleyball party on a remote island in the Spratly archipelago like nothing seen since 1986. Actually, more like 1975. That year, Vietnamese soldiers snuck onto Southwest Cay, an island equidistant between Vietnam and the Philippines, and snatched the island from its occupiers, a Philippine naval unit, which had sailed a few miles north for a party. The island has remained under Vietnamese control ever since.

But according to Filipino naval officials who spoke to Reuters, 40 Filipino sailors will soon return to Southwest Cay for a day filled with beach volleyball, drinks, and music. “We actually had this scheduled last year but Typhoon Haiyan intervened….We are lining up more activities in the future,” one official said. The Chinese navy, he added, is not invited.

The party will herald a new era in the Philippines-Vietnam relationship. The two countries have competing claims on parts of the South China Sea but seem to be putting aside their differences in order to present a united, stronger front against China, which claims the Spratlys for itself. Indeed, late last month, the Philippines submitted a case to the United Nations arguing that, under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, China has no basis for its claims. China was enraged by the the effort, and in retaliation has repeatedly tried to block the Filipino navy’s resupply missions to its men standing guard on the rusting, half-submerged Sierra Madre near Second Thomas Shoal.

No doubt the beach party will further irritate China. “We will respond firmly to provocations that undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Premier Li Keqiang warned on Thursday. “We Chinese believe in repaying kindness with kindness and meeting wrongdoing with justice.”

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  • gabrielsyme

    This has to be the best foreign-policy story I’ve seen this year. China looks even more aggressive and unreasonable when it’s protesting against a beach party of international friendship.

    • Jim__L

      If China’s naval buildup is not countered with real hardware on the part of the countries of the western Pacific, it really isn’t going to matter how “aggressive” or “unreasonable” China looks.

      • gabrielsyme

        I completely agree, but the optics do matter inasmuch as they help to unite resistence to China’s imperialist project and bring attention to the issue in Western capitals. It’s a smallish thing, but a positive one.

        • Jim__L

          Fair enough.

          I’ve just seen too much soft “power” rhetoric floating around to be completely happy with someone talking about using “beer and volleyball” to stand against a determined enemy.

  • Monnette

    I never knew a beach party could undermine peace and stability.

    Is Premier Li Kequiang referring to the peace ark and their donations to the Philippines during Typhoon Haiyan when he said, “We Chinese believe in repaying kindness with kindness and meeting wrongdoing with justice?” So, am I to understand that they were only taking advantage of the situation rather than truly helping?

    If the Chinese believe in repaying kindness with kindness, then how does that explain the fact that good Samaritans are being blamed by a victim’s family for whatever mishap that has befallen the victim in the hopes of extorting money from the good Samaritan? Isn’t that why Chinese citizens would rather not help victims for fear of extortion?

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