Wednesday, June 8, 2016

China, US upping diplomatic maneuvering in South China Sea

China and the U.S. are pulling out all the stops before a court ruling on China’s territorial claim to a large part of the South China Sea, with a flurry of diplomatic and military activity across Southeast Asia in recent weeks.

The international tribunal’s decision on the case brought against China by the Philippines isn’t enforceable, but it could create momentum either for or against Beijing. The matter being considered by the tribunal in The Hague goes to the heart of the strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China in the western Pacific.

For China and the U.S. the race is on to win the support of as many nations -- large and small -- as possible before the decision is handed down.

Fiery Cross Reef
Senior officials on both sides have been busy. China’s top military officer recently visited Fiery Cross Reef along with a group of singers to entertain troops.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi has roped in Russia and is claiming support from countries as diverse as Gambia, Poland and Qatar.

China even made a botched effort to get Fiji to back its position, all while its ambassadors are demanding outsiders stop meddling in Chinese affairs.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter joined an aircraft carrier in its patrol of the waters, shortly after agreeing to a beefed up agreement that lets U.S. troops rotate through military bases in the Philippines for the first time in decades.
The Philippines is only one of several Southeast Asian claimants in the South China Sea -- others include Malaysia and Vietnam -- but it has been the most vocal.

Since it first turned to international arbitration in 2013, China has built more than 3,000 acres of land on seven features in the area, and its coastguard and naval vessels have become a frequent presence.

When analysts look at the South China Sea, they tend to focus on oil and gas reserves. The U.S. EIA says the area has proved and probable reserves of 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. China’s estimates dwarf those. In 2012, Cnooc estimated the area holds 125 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.