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South China Sea Standoff
Beijing Digs in as SCS Court Decision Looms

The Shangri-La Dialogue which came to a close on Sunday was dominated by diplomatic sparring over the disputes in the South China Sea. After a days-long parade of concerns about its island-building activities, Chinese officials lashed out at the U.S. The Financial Times reports:

Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the joint staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, on Sunday blamed the US for exacerbating the disputes by “openly showing its military muscle” and supporting “allies that are confronting China and forcing China to accept any arbitration award”.

“China firmly opposes such behaviour,” he told an audience of defence ministers, generals and analysts at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security forum in Singapore. “We do not make trouble but we have no fear of trouble.”

The irony of blaming others for “showing its military muscle” aside, Beijing’s position of “we have no fear of trouble” comes at a particularly dangerous time as the region braces for the Hague ruling in the Philippines v. China case. The prevailing opinion is that the Philippines will come out with more of its claims affirmed by the Hague later this month. But, as Admiral Sun makes quite clear, China will not accept the arbitration results and is willing to tussle in whatever may constitute trouble.

Last week saw Chinese state media warn about collisions between U.S. patrols and Chinese planes. This week’s statements were even more belligerent. What comes next week and in weeks following is an unsettling question, especially as it looks clearer that neither Beijing nor the United States will back down.

In the meantime, China is likely to continue its campaign to get other countries on board with its rejection of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s jurisdiction over the disputes with the Philippines. China increasingly finds itself behind what Secretary of Defense of Carter warned would be a “Great Wall of Isolation”. China didn’t take being backed into a corner by a multilateral tag team this weekend very well. As the pressure grows, tensions will only rise further.

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  • Dhako

    I will have you know, Walter, that on the South China Sea (SCS) talk is cheap. And the “talked-about” international tribunal gin up by some third party against China is even much more cheaper than the breezy guff talk of Mr Carter from the Pentagon, which itself is nothing but self-preening impotent pose on his part, with the intention of him playing to the PR gallery in the international scene and summits at the expense of China.

    Moreover, but just in case you wanted it to know what counts on this issue, Walter, I’ll have you know that the Chinese state knows they are within their state’s right to keep building on those areas as they see fit. Hence, if you are mindful to warn the Chinese of a grave mistake over the South China Sea (SCS) then let the Chinese side know when the US’s naval armada is coming to the rescue at the behest of the Philippines. But if you do not have the “memo” of that impending (or likely to be impending) US’s show-of-force in the SCS, then please spare us latest drama about how much hot-air Secretary Ashton Carter have seen fit to indulge at the expense of everyone else who was unfortunate enough to be at his vicinity.

    And while you are at it, Walter, see to it also to tone down all this silly talk of how the latest US’s Freedom-of-Navigation (FON) in those sees is likely to hinder Chinese’s state action, much less put the fear of God into the hearts of the Chinese leadership. I hope for your own intellectual credibility henceforth, you should know by now that time has come for you to drop these endless talk of how the allege tribunal in Hague will inconvenience the Chinese side. Or even how the pointless and verbally gin-up Freedom-of-Navigation (FON) by the Americans will soon enough be taking serious in Beijing. This I hope you will be imaginative enough to realize it.

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