After all of the posturing that the US and China have been doing in recent months as it relates to the South China Sea, the time is drawing near for The Hague to issue a decision on one of the main sources of the tension, namely a maritime complaint that the Philippines filed against China back in 2013.
As a quick reminder, many countries have claims that overlap each other in the South China Sea, and China in particular has decided that its claim trumps any others. In June, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter went to Singapore and made it known that the US was going to "remain the most powerful military and main underwriter of security in the region for decades to come, and there should be no doubts about that", adding that China was in danger of "erecting a Great Wall of self-isolation" if it continued its actions. Subsequently China threatened to leave the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea if The Hague didn't side with China in its ruling, saying that type of ruling would be the worst outcome of the dispute.
Against that backdrop, The Hague is set to release its ruling on July 12, and Beijing is preparing fully for the decision, as it announced that it will be conducting military drills between July 5 - July 11 in the disputed waters. "The drills are a very symbolic expression of China's resolve. It is definitely also responding to the recent American warships patrolling in the South China Sea." Zhu Feng, dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Nanjing University said.
Not only is Beijing conducting military drills, but The People's Daily, a flagship newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party on Wednesday warned Washington that there would be a "price" to pay if it crosses China's "bottom line" by meddling in disputes over the South China Sea. As Military.com reports, the paper said that the US should recognize that there is a bottom line with every issue, and the US would bear all responsibility for any further escalation of the already high tensions between the two countries.
The People's Daily editorial comes as Beijing ramps up efforts to assert its stance ahead of a ruling by an international tribunal in a case filed by the Philippines challenging China's claims to most of the South China Sea. China is boycotting the case before The Hague-based court and says it will not accept the verdict.
The paper said that bilateral ties and regional stability were at stake and that the U.S. should recognize that "there is a bottom line with every issue, and a price will be paid if that line is crossed."
"If the United States, regardless of the cost, chooses the path of 'brinkmanship' that pressures and intimidates others, there will be only one result, that is, that the U.S. bears all the responsibility for possibly further heightening tensions in the South China Sea," the editorial said.
"China has a solid-rock position over safeguarding China's national sovereignty and territorial integrity. It will not want anything that does not belong to it, but it will ensure that every inch of land it owns is safe and sound," the paper wrote.
In perhaps the most direct language yet on the matter, Dai Bingguo, a top Chinese diplomat made it crystal clear in a speech at a forum in Washington that China has had enough of the US and its activity in the region.
To begin with, Dia states that that if a decision comes from the arbitration ruling that goes against China, the ruling will not be accepted to begin with.
By taking a position of not participating in or accepting the arbitration, China is upholding its own rights and interests under international law and safeguarding the integrity and authority of the UNCLOS. We hope that the US side will take an objective and fair approach regarding the arbitration, rather than criticizing China for upholding the UNCLOS from the position of a non-state party. The final award of the arbitration, which will come out in the next few days, amounts to nothing more than a piece of paper. China suffered enough from hegemonism, power politics and bullying by Western Powers since modern times. The Versailles peace conference at the end of World War I forced a sold-out of Shandong Province. The Lytton Commission, sent by the League of Nations when Japan invaded China's northeast provinces, only served to justify Japan's invasion. Even the US-led negotiations on San Francisco Peace Treaty excluded China. These episodes are still vivid in our memory. That is why China will grip its own future on issues of territorial sovereignty, and will never accept any solution imposed by a third party.
Dai went on to say that the situation in the South China Sea needs to cool down, calling for the Philippines to not react further if China ignores the ruling, and also noting that the US and China actually have no territorial dispute in the region and that relations should not be defined by mishandling of the issue. Said otherwise, the US is meddling where it doesn't belong, as it has no territorial claim in the region.
The temperature of the South China Sea is now high enough. Some people even clamored for "fight tonight". If such momentum went unchecked, accidents could happen and the South China Sea might sink into chaos and so might the entire Asia. Should that happen, it will be countries around the South China Sea, the Asian countries and even the US itself that will suffer. We must not let this happen, and not allow Asia to become another West Asia and North Africa. Anyone intent on fueling the flames and unleashing disastrous outcomes will be held accountable by history.
Cooling down temperatures in the South China Sea requires concrete efforts by all countries concerned.
First, the urgent priority is to stop the arbitration case initiated by the Philippines. If the tribunal insisted on its way and produced an "award", no one and no country should implement the award in any form, much less to force China into implementation. And the Philippines must be dissuaded from making any further provocation. Otherwise, China would not sit idle.
Second, China and the US have neither disputes over even one inch of territory nor fundamental clash of interests in the South China Sea. The South China Sea issue should not be allowed to define China-US relations. Rather, this issue should be put in perspective against larger bilateral relations and be transformed into an area of cooperation rather than arena for confrontation. We must forestall undue disruptions or damages to the overall China-US relations as a result of differences over this issue. The people of China and the US will not forgive us, if we let the basically sound China-US relations cultivated by both sides over the past forty years be ruined by mis-judgment and mishandling over this issue.
The US's intervention in the region was also discussed, with Dai calling for the US to scale back its "heavy-handed" intervention, and making it clear that China would not be intimidated, even if the US sent "all the ten aircraft carriers to the South China Sea." Dai warned that the risk to the US is being dragged into trouble against its own will, and would "pay an unexpectedly heavy price."
Third, the US's heavy-handed intervention in the South China Sea issue needs to be scaled back. There is deep concern about the US continued reinforcement of its military alliances in the Asia-Pacific and forward deployment of its military assets. Since last year, the US has intensified its close-in reconnaissance and "Freedom of Navigation" operations targeted at China. The rhetoric of a few people in the US has become blatantly confrontational. How would you feel if you were Chinese and read in the newspapers or watch on TV reports and footages about US aircraft carriers, naval ships and fighter jets flexing muscles right at your doorstep and hear a senior US military official telling the troops to be ready "to fight tonight"? Wouldn't you consider it unhelpful to the US image in the world? This is certainly not the way China and the US should interact with each other.
Having said that, we in China would not be intimidated by the US actions, not even if the US sent all the ten aircraft carriers to the South China Sea. Furthermore, US intervention on the issue has led some countries to believe that the US is on their side and they stand to gain from the competition between major countries. As a result, we have seen more provocations from these countries, adding uncertainties and escalating tensions in the South China Sea. This, in fact, is not in the interest of the US. The risk for the US is that it may be dragged into trouble against its own will and pay an unexpectedly heavy price. Hopefully, the countries, whose recent course of action has been driven by reckless impulse, will engage in some cool-headed thinking and realize that China has been living alongside them peacefully as a friendly neighbor for several thousand years. Neither had this neighbor invaded anyone nor interfered in any country's internal affairs. Neither is this neighbor pursuing any regime change nor building confrontational political or military blocs. All China's endeavors are focused on protecting its sovereignty, security and development interests and it has no intention to seek dominance or hegemony. Those countries will eventually see that it is the friendly China that will remain their neighbor for generations to come instead of some faraway superpower.
Dai ended the speech by saying that in the end, he believes that China and the US will be able to work together and embrace the future.
Wang Anshi, a famous Chinese poet who lived in the Northern Song Dynasty wrote, "We should not be afraid of the clouds blocking our view, because we already are at the highest elevation." It means that only by adopting a strategic vision and minimizing distractions can one understand where the trend is moving. In a globalized world full of opportunities and challenges, as the biggest developing and developed countries and the world's two largest economies, China and the US shoulder more common responsibilities and face more common challenges in driving world economic recovery and promoting international peace and security. There is so much potential of cooperation yet to be tapped. What we need is not a microscope to enlarge our differences, but a telescope to look ahead and focus on cooperation. Both Chinese and Americans are great nations with insight and vision. As long as the two sides work for common interests, respect each other, treat each other as equals, have candid dialogue, and expand common ground, China and the US will be able to manage differences and find the key to turning those issues into opportunities of working together. I have no doubt that China-US relations will embrace a great future.
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If that speech (in full here) doesn't let the United States know precisely where China stands and its level of frustration then nothing will. We eagerly await the verdict from The Hague, as at that point there could be far more issues in the world than how to trade Brexit.