On the situation in the South China Sea

An interesting article was published on the website of the Russian International Affairs CouncilSouth China Sea - The Hague Court and Military Tensions"Senior Researcher at the Center for Strategic Problems of the NEA, the SCO and BRICS of the RAS IFES and the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, HSEVasily Kashinin which he analyzes the situation around the disputed territories in the South China Sea.
On July 12, 2016, the International Court of Justice in The Hague satisfied the claim of the Philippine authorities and ruled that the PRC has no “historical right” to the disputed territories in the South China Sea. The Chinese authorities, in turn, did not recognize the decision of the court and do not intend to comply with it. Should we expect an increase in tension in the region, or will China and the Philippines be able to agree on a compromise?

Map of the South China Sea at the National Education Center in Nanjing, China (c) Imaginechina / Liu jianhua
The decision of the international court in The Hague on the suit of the Philippines, which successfully challenged the Chinese claims to the waters of the South China Sea, undoubtedlycomplicate the position of China in Southeast Asia. It will lead to increased pressure from the United States and Japan on China under the pretext of "respecting international law." The consequence of this may be the growth of American and Chinese military activity in the region. This, in turn, will cause an increase in tension, including an increase in the likelihood of an armed conflict.
At the same time, a court decision may also open ways to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea on the basis of a compromise. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly made it clear that he intends to use the decision of the court as a starting point for a new round of negotiations with Beijing. His readiness for dialogue with the PRC has already caused some concern in Tokyo and Washington. The Philippines waited for a court decision to start bargaining on the most favorable terms.
The Philippines waited for a court decision to start bargaining on the most favorable terms.
Negotiations, which R. Duterte will be able to conduct from a position of strength after the court decision, potentially promise huge benefits to the Philippines: for the Chinese, it is obviously better now to simply “buy” a way out of a disadvantageous political position. R.Even at the stage of his election campaign, Duterte pointed to the readiness to exchange concessions on the South China Sea problem for common infrastructure investments. He promised that if China decided to build railways in the Philippines over a six-year period, he would “shut up” over the maritime territorial dispute.
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The Project 052D (c) HSN sixth and seventh destroyers of the project 052D are under construction for the PLA Navy.
For the Chinese, obviously, it is now better to simply “buy” a way out of a disadvantageous political situation.
Such a position is natural and logical for a populist politician who relies on the support of the poor, underprivileged part of the population. Instead of a protracted, unpromising and costly (given the role of the Chinese economy in the region), the fight against China for useless reefs and rocks with a very modest amount of proven resources R. Duterte, after a court decision, can make very large economic concessions from the Chinese. This will create new industries, expand the numerous bottlenecks of the Philippine infrastructure, and secure the president’s political future.
The Chinese are signaling their readiness to bargain.However, the result of any compromise will be the strengthening of China’s strategic positions in Southeast Asia and the growth of Chinese influence on the ASEAN countries in exchange for only money, in which neither the United States nor Japan is interested. Given the fragile nature of the Philippine domestic policy and its openness to external influence, it cannot be excluded that the negotiation process will be disrupted or take a protracted nature.
In general, the Philippines and, to an even greater degree, other ASEAN countries, including Vietnam, do not intend to push the Chinese into a corner or force them to unilaterally renounce their claims and positions with regard to the South China Sea - they understand too well that it's impossible. The policy of ASEAN member countries is to constantly maneuver between great powers and bargaining. Irreversible confrontation with one superpower means complete dependence on the other, and that scares them. They do not trust the United States almost as much as China.
This pattern applies even to the formal allies of the United States in the region. It is enough to look at the statement of the Foreign Ministry of Singapore after the court decision, which does not contain a hint of support for the position of one of the parties.The exception is the poorest countries of the alliance, such as Cambodia and Laos, which have fallen under the determining Chinese influence, and this factor affects ASEAN’s ability to pursue consistent policies.
Instead of a protracted, unpromising and costly fight with China for useless reefs and rocks with a very modest amount of proven resources, R. Duterte, after a court ruling, can make very large economic concessions from the Chinese.
The United States and Japan are interested in using court decisions to isolate the PRC and thereby weaken Chinese influence in the region, as well as form a single, relatively welded block of countries opposing Chinese “aggression and violations of international law”, in much the same way as This was done in Europe in relation to Russia. Thus, it is not the issue of owning reefs, cliffs and rights to the surrounding water area, but the question of China’s place in regional politics.
Too hasty, tough, thoughtless steps can lead China to isolation. On the other hand, showing weakness in the face of American pressure can have even more disastrous consequences.To the weakening of prestige in the region will be added the destruction of the reputation of the Chinese government in the eyes of its own population. The decision of the court and the accompanying actions of the United States have already caused an increase in patriotic and nationalist attitudes among the Chinese. Chinese Internet censors are forced to do an unusual thing - removing calls for war from social networks.
China will have, on the one hand, to demonstrate readiness for dialogue with its neighbors in the region, and on the other, to emphasize its strength, determination and willingness to go to the end, if necessary. It was precisely this goal that served as major military exercises in the South China Sea, which lasted several days and ended on Monday on the eve of the announcement of the decision of the Hague arbitration. Aviation, surface ships, submarines and coastal missile units participated in the combat shooting exercises. China has fully demonstrated its powerful combat potential in the area. Demonstrations of the firmness of the position are tough statements by the Chinese government after the court decision. It is possible that China will fulfill its promise and will soon create an identification air defense zone in the South China Sea, just as it was done in the East China Sea.
Given the fragile nature of the Philippine domestic policy and its openness to external influence, it cannot be excluded that the negotiation process will be disrupted or take a protracted nature.
The conflict is not included in the plans of either party, but the situation is dangerous. Too active American “patrols to ensure freedom of navigation”, in particular, attempts to fly directly over the Chinese islands or enter the 12-mile zone around them may well lead to an armed incident. This is a real threat that everyone will have to respond to one degree or another. Sit aside will not work.
Russia takes quite a reasonable and rational position on disputes in the South China Sea. Not supporting the claims of either side, Russia calls on them to resolve disputes in the course of peace negotiations, avoiding the internationalization of the conflict. Carefully observed neutrality does not concern, however, the activities of the United States in the framework of the conflict. Russia directly criticizes intervention in the conflict of non-regional powers, accusing them of growing tension in the region. A statement by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, made on Thursday, also follows this line.It contains indications of the need to exercise restraint, to resolve the dispute through negotiations and consultations of the parties involved with respect for international law. At the same time, the statement points to the counterproductiveness of intervening in the situation of extraregional forces. At the same time, Russia is moving away from the legal assessments of the decision of the arbitration court. Probably, this position will continue in the future. It is only possible that in the event of further intensification of the extraregional forces, the criticism of their role on the part of Russia will also be strengthened.

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