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Experts Say China’s Path After South China Sea Ruling Unclear

An aerial photo taken on Sept. 25, 2015 from a seaplane of Hainan Maritime Safety Administration shows cruise vessel Haixun 1103 heading to the Yacheng 13-1 drilling rig during a patrol in South China Sea. Xinhua Photo

An aerial photo taken on Sept. 25, 2015 from a seaplane of Hainan Maritime Safety Administration shows cruise vessel Haixun 1103 heading to the Yacheng 13-1 drilling rig during a patrol in South China Sea. Xinhua Photo

China has made clear that it refuses to accept an international arbitration panel’s ruling against its territorial claims in the South China Sea, but whether that stance leads to increased military tensions between Beijing and the United States or opens the door for broader negotiations is an open question.

Vice Adm. Yoji Koda, a retired commander-in-chief of Japan’s Self-Defense Fleet, said in answer to a question that Tuesday’s decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea, presents Washington and Tokyo with a “fait accompli.”

Militarily, he told an audience at the Center for the Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think-tank, if Beijing goes ahead with building up Scarborough Shoal, it “could be a game changer.”

What he was referring to at the Wednesday event was the creation of a triangle of military facilities on artificial islands allowing China to project power to its claimed “nine-dash line,” from its coastal mainland.

“I’m not saying go to war today,” but “you have to be prepared.”

The panel has no enforcement powers.

Julia Xue, senior fellow in the international law program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, viewed the ruling and China’s reaction as “temporarily increasing tensions” in the region, but it also “causes states to think forward.” She mentioned the statement by China’s foreign ministry saying it was open to negotiations, a point made also by the Chinese ambassador to the United States.

China’s view of itself as a maritime power, which began in the 1970s and accelerated over the past five to six years, has been “a seascape change” for its leadership’s thinking about its role in the world. At the same time as it became a rising maritime nation, Beijing has also expanded its economic ties inland with the building of a “new Silk Road” to the West and the creation of an investment bank for Asian nations, she said.

“We have to sit down and discuss” the issues that the ruling raises, Xue said, a process that is “embedded in Asian culture.”

Brian Andrews, principal in the Asia Group, said, there is a misconception that “the United States views [the South China sea dispute] as a zero-sum game. The U.S. is up; China is down.” There is a history of negotiations between the two countries over a number of economic and diplomatic concerns, as well as between other countries in the region over divisive issues. Among the regional talks he cited were: Philippines and Vietnam over territory and mineral exploration and Japan and Korea over “comfort women”—women taken forcibly into prostitution during World War II.

Looking at the United States’ rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific, Koda said it has “not [been] successful in the short term.” As treaty partners, Tokyo and Washington “need to develop new tactics,” particularly in light of the ruling coming from the Hague.

“The U.S. presence is a stabilizing element in the region, from the Indian ocean to the Pacific. The South China Sea sits in the middle” of that area.

Elina Noor, director for foreign policy and security studies at Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said for the coastal countries in Southeast Asia, particularly, there are questions of sovereignty and territorial integrity when it comes to the South China Sea. “There are also resources” from fisheries to energy that countries such as hers rely on. She added that for Malaysia those waters also divide the country into two parts—the mainland and a large section of Borneo, an island, three hours away from the capital Kuala Lampur.

The East China Sea, although still tense in Japan and China’s long-running dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which Tokyo occupies, is stable, Koda said. He attributed relative quiet to the strong Japanese coast guard presence, being backed up by the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Pacific Fleet if need be.

The situation in that potential flashpoint should be “fairly stable for the foreseeable future” of five to seven years.

  • RobM1981

    This is a good article. It’s clear that the Experts will be able to explain with absolute certainty, absolute clarity, and absolute foresight what happens…

    …after it happens.

  • Hugh

    Of course China also wants to lock up the SCS to keep the USN at a distance in the event of conflict, as well as to have their own safe area to hide their Boomers.

    • Curtis Conway

      e.g., ASW Helo Base and auxiliary runways . . . everywhere.

      • Hugh

        And underwater listening arrays to detect submarines of all nations.

        • Secundius

          IUSS (Integrated Undersea Surveillance System), was Operational in the Pacific Ocean from 1950 to 2010. And SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System) in the Atlantic Ocean from 1952 to 1994(?). IUSS, was Replaced by ADS (Advance Deployable System) in 19 April 1995 and Possibly in the Atlantic As Well in 30 September 1996…

  • publius_maximus_III

    “The panel has no enforcement powers.” — I’d say that about sums the situation up. So what’s the point then? It’s like Barney Fife without his bullet.

    China’s reaction to the arbitration decision would probably be to appeal it, and if the appeal fails, to just ignore it. Or they may cut to the chase and start ignoring it today (my bet).

  • Secundius

    “Squatters Rights” to a 40-Year Oil Reserve JUST-OFF the Philippine Coast…

  • John B. Morgen

    China has taken an indifference posture towards the international community, more so then ever. The United States should do the same towards China by mirroring China’s policy, but back it up our new policy with carrier battle groups than using LCS warships. We [must not] show or take appeasement position because it would be showing weakness to the Chinese We must be ardent in showing defiance with resolve stance against Chinese [imperialism].

  • incredulous1

    “Open to negotiations….?” That presupposed a fait accompli, and we’re not there yet. The Philippines should just pay lip service until the US gets a POTUS who is willing to do the right there by its treaty ally.
    The incoming POTUS should organize multilateral peace keeping forces to be stationed at Subic Bay to include the US [as lead] Australia, Indonesia, Japan, and Singapore. Hopefully this can be used to protect the sovereign rights of the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal BEFORE Chinese skimmers and barges start arriving on the scene. In other words, blockade them as they have done to the Philippines in their own territory. Something proactive must start happening and not just the appearance of a few A10s for a couple of weeks, and not a CSG that runs away just as the Hague rules.

    • Jay

      So “proactive” = take actions to escalate tensions and maybe start a war? FONS is America’s only national security interest, not protecting fishing and other rights of ASEAN countries.

      • incredulous1

        Proactive = peace through strength. You show weakness and you’ll get more of the same, which you seem to be OK with. However, consider that FonOps is NOT the only US interest. Else, why would we sign the UDCA to augment our existing treaties with the Philippines. You let China choke off the trade routes and you are also harming South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan among others. We simply cannot become isolationist over the SCS.

        • Jay

          Yes — China will “choke off the trade routes” and hold the rest of the world hostage and start WW3 — but Walmart and all the other countries you mention will win the “war “without firing a shot by crashing China’s economy when they all stop buying China’s exports –and 500 million or so unemployed. largely illiterate Chinese making @ $2000 a year revolt against the CCP. Try a little more reality and less Tom Cancy and Hollywood.

          • incredulous1

            I am no fan of Hollywood, though the Clintons certainly were. More a fan of Von Clausewitz and Kissinger where we recognize that you have to communicate effectively in the language of your opponent if you wish to avoid war; i.e., the FIRST means of diplomacy. China already engages in a war of economics and espionage, just ask Japan.

            But to your original point, we are not the ones taking the action to escalate, but we are the ones sending mixed signals and accommodating aggression [per UN3314] against one of our treaty allies.

            I think everyone, including the Chinese would be shocked if Obama actually decided to do anything about a move on Scarborough at this point. His warning to Xi was yet another of his patented “pink lines in the sand.”

          • Jay

            Kissinger? Mass murderer — including American servicemen by prolonging the Vietnam War for a couple of years. And was it Obama who also killed Lincoln?

          • incredulous1

            I didn’t realize that people on here were so unhinged and ignorant. You must have been a sensitive Obama fan. I find your taciturn tantrum to be a bizarre development considering your initial responses. Perhaps this is what “clever” liberals do to ambush us neocons into an absurd argument.

            Regarding Kissinger and Vietnam, who was it that secured a peace treaty with the Vietcong? What did Johnson accomplish, other than what you accuse Kissinger of? If you want to cure your ignorance, you might wish to look up the casualty data and compare. I thought everyone knew that score…

            You will get no further reply from me on this as it is not worth my time to continue.

            So have fun.