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South China Sea on a Boil
Philippines Turns Down Talks Amidst Chinese “Combat Air Patrols”

Following the Hague ruling, the Obama Administration reportedly sent out “private diplomatic messages to the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian nations urging them to exercise restraint”. Beijing, unsurprisingly, has responded with less restraint, The New York Times reports:

China said Monday that it had begun what would become regular military air patrols over disputed islands and shoals of the South China Sea, highlighting its claim to the vast area a week after an international tribunal said Beijing’s assertion of sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis.

China’s air force flew a “combat air patrol” over the South China Sea “recently,” Xinhua, the official news agency, reported, citing Shen Jinke, an air force spokesman. The patrol consisted of bombers, fighters, “scouts” and tankers and would become “regular practice,” Mr. Shen said, according to Xinhua.

The announcement of the air patrols, plus a separate statement that China would conduct military exercises in the South China Sea off the coast of Hainan Island, came as Adm. John M. Richardson, the chief of United States naval operations, was in Beijing to discuss the South China Sea and other issues that arose after the tribunal rebuked China’s claims over the waters on July 12.

To be sure, crowded airspace raises the specter of some potentially disastrous scenarios and demonstrate China’s ability to flaunt international law and American naval supremacy. But the short-term consequences don’t appear so good for Beijing: the muscle flexing apparently didn’t help its overtures to the Philippines for an alternative, bilateral settlement to the disputes. Reuters reports:

The Philippines has turned down a Chinese proposal to start bilateral talks on their South China Sea dispute, its foreign minister said on Tuesday, because of Beijing’s pre-condition of not discussing a court ruling that nullified most of its claims.

Despite Beijing’s offer to “meet halfway” and earlier displays of interest in negotiations from President Duterte, the Philippines now seems to leaning toward taking a stand. But that will only be possible if the United States is willing to stand firmly by Manila’s side. The question is whether a White House that, as Michael Green wrote for TAI over the weekend, has “micromanaged and limited freedom of navigation operations” for most of its tenure will be willing to use more force and diplomacy.

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  • Blackbeard

    Now we see the real damage done by Obama’s incompetence. We signal China that they should show restraint but, having seen eight years of various “red lines” being crossed with impunity, the Chinese laugh and double down. Now what? Military action or another ignominious retreat? We have no good options.

    Obama, truly a transformative president.

    • Nevis07

      At this point Blackbeard, it’s about limiting the damage he has done until he’s left office. How to do that, I’ve not got many ideas…

  • ltlee1

    I am surprised that many apparently do not know that China actually has two independent claims on the SCS originated from two independent political entities. The Hague court (not affiliated to the UN as reported by some presses) reject the PRC’s 9 dash line claim. However, the ROC’s 11 dash line claim is not found invalid by any court. As a matter of fact, it is not a signatory of the UNCLOS, it cannot be found invalid or rejected except by force or through negotiation.
    Under the “One China’ principle, the PRC which represented China (PRC+ROC), however, would have to defend ROC’s claim as it would defend the Taiwan island.

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