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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