You know, I admit, I’ve been a bit worried about a war starting over tensions in the South China Sea. Mainly based on statements from Chinese state-run media like, “a US-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea.” You can see that quote here. (this is the Chinese 如果美国的底线就是中国必须停工，那么中美南海一战将无可避免，而且冲突的烈度会高于人们通常理解的”摩擦”)
Well, it’s easy to misinterpret that. Sure, it seems like the Chinese language Global Times is in some way suggesting war between the US and China is inevitable in the South China Sea. But that was a year ago. Now, according to this more recent editorial in the English language Global Times, that simply isn’t the case.
“China is a peace-loving country and deals with foreign relations with discretion,” and “hopes disputes can be resolved by talks.”
Whew, you could build an entire island on my South China Sea relief. I’m especially glad to hear about that, “being willing to resolve things by talks” bit. Because next week, a UN-backed tribunal in the Hague will be doing just that! It will rule on a territorial dispute between China and the Philippines over disputed territorial waters. It’s great that China is so open to resolving things by talks!
Except Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei might have been sending mixed messages when he recently said, “China does not accept any dispute resolution from a third party and does not accept any dispute resolution forced on China.” Funny that, I guess the Chinese regime isn’t really open to talks.
But China still only wants peace in the South China Sea, right? I guess I’m just getting a little confused, since that English Global Times article says, “China is a peace-loving country,” but then later, “China should speed up building its military capabilities,” and “let the US pay a cost it cannot stand if it intervenes in the South China Sea.” That sounds like a threat to me.
Now, you might be thinking, “Yeah? Them and what army?” Probably the one that has just cordoned off a huge chunk of the South China Sea. And though Hong Lei said, “The military drills are the Chinese navy’s routine drills according to its annual plan,” the Global Times specifically wrote just a few days ago that the drills are being held as a result of the international arbitration case.
Next Tuesday, the Hague will issue its ruling—and it’s widely expected to rule in favor of the Philippines. So not only are this week’s drills happening in disputed territorial waters which Vietnam claims, they’re also happening right next to some of the busiest shipping lanes in the South China Sea.
This is of course just the latest in the very long saga of the South China Sea territorial disputes. China militarizes the region by, say, building artificial islands. The United States then says, no, those are international waters and international airspace. Then sends its military in to prove it. Then Chinese state-run media criticizes the US for militarizing the region. Internet flame wars ensue. Then I make an episode about it, resulting in more internet flame wars. It’s like a merry-go-round! That’s on fire. And it’s going way too fast to get off anymore. Because all it takes is one little accident for this whole thing to spiral out of everyone’s control. Think that will never happen?
July 1st, the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party: A Taiwanese patrol ship is doing training drills—and accidentally fires a supersonic missile in the direction of mainland China. It hits another ship, killing the captain. Now, it just so happens that ship was Taiwanese. But imagine what would be happening right now if that freak accident had hit a mainland Chinese boat and killed a mainland Chinese captain. We might be working towards a final answer to that “One China Policy” question a lot sooner than anyone anticipated.
So as we approach the ruling by the Hague, with tensions so high, what do you think will happen next? And what should be done? Leave your comments below.