Power Struggle for the South China Sea

As an anticipated ruling over the South China Sea in the Hague approaches, the Chinese military are conducting large-scale combat drills in parts of the hotly contested waters.

The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration will deliver a verdict July 12 regarding the South China Sea that is expected to favor the Philippines over Beijing, who have repeatedly said it won’t recognize the decision when it comes.

Meanwhile, the Chinese have been holding massive combat drills near China’s island province of Hainan and the Paracel islands (also claimed by Vietnam) in the South China Sea, reports Reuters.

Chinese state-run media say the exercises run until July 11, and other vessels have been prohibited from the area.

Meanwhile the U.S. Navy is patrolling in waters further south, nearby the Chinese-held reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands reported the Straits Times.

Watch some raw footage of those drills here from RT:

Beijing may be expecting to lose in the court, but that hasn’t stopped their propaganda efforts. From newspaper editorials to diplomatic missions, Beijing has tried to spread its case far and wide.

Meanwhile for the home audience, some state-run Chinese papers are sending out a slightly different message where the US gets the blame for militarizing the issue, and China must prepare itself for conflict if required.

“Even though China cannot keep up with the U.S. militarily in the short-term, it should be able to let the U.S. pay a cost it cannot stand if it intervenes in the South China Sea dispute by force,” said an editorial in the state-run Global Times on July 5.

“China hopes disputes can be resolved by talks, but it must be prepared for any military confrontation. This is common sense in international relations,” the editorial finishes on.

This is a toned down version of other editorials put out by China’s state-run media in the past, according to China Uncensored. See more about that in the feature video above.

As for what they want, Beijing claims most of the South China Sea as its own. That’s a 1.4-million-square-mile chunk of open ocean where some $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes through annually.

On top of that, the South China Sea is also resource rich and strategically important.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have contesting claims in the area, but what Beijing is belligerently doing dwarfs all of their efforts combined.

To back up claims that stretch 1,200 miles from its own shoreline, Beijing has been busy turning atolls and rocky outcrops into islands that are being militarized, says the Pentagon. Around 3,000 acres of new territory has been built on seven reefs. As part of that, they have built three airstrips.

The South China Sea dispute is seen by many commentators as being about Beijing wanting to set the playbook on how things are done in Asia, and to do that the U.S. needs to be edged out of the equation.

Beijing’s reaction to the Hague ruling will reveal how much further it is willing to push the envelope in challenging existing international norms, which have been in place since the end of World War II. If it keeps going as it has it can only test Washington’s commitment to those international norms. It will also be a test for ASEAN members in how they standup to Beijing’s assertiveness.

If Beijing responds to July 12 with some form of retaliatory measures, that can only increase tensions in the region to dangerous levels.

Either way some do not see the issue or its related tensions fading away anytime soon.

“[A resolution] is very unlikely as long as the whole issue remains embroiled in the deeper rivalry between Washington and Beijing over who will be the primary power in Asia over the coming decades,” said Professor Hugh White of the Australian National University in Canberra according to the Straits Times.

See this recent report by Sky News on the issue:

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