South China Sea Disputes: Who Wins and Who Loses?


A fisherman look at the fishing boats that just returned from disputed Scarborough Shoal, as they are docked at the coastal village of Cato in Infanta, Pangasinan in the Philippines, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

A fisherman look at the fishing boats that just returned from disputed Scarborough Shoal, as they are docked at the coastal village of Cato in Infanta, Pangasinan in the Philippines, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak and China's Premier Li Keqiang attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China, November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and China’s Premier Li Keqiang attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China, November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Former Philippine President Aquino was so excited when the US declared its pivot to Asia aimed at containing China. He soon sent his navy to round up Chinese fishermen at disputed Scarborough Shoal in order to drive Chinese away from the shoal and take control of the shoal.

In return, China sent its navy and coast guards to take the shoal and drive away Philippine navy. It even did not allow Filipino fishermen to continue to fish there. There was standoff between China and the Philippines for quite a long time.

Aquino did not expect that the US did not send its navy to help him. When he asked the US to help him. The US, though wanted to contain China, did not want to fight a war with China for Philippines’ rights and interests. It told him to retreat and promised to tell China to retreat too. Aquino did have retreated but China would not.

To help Aquino, the US told Aquino to file an arbitration at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague and promised that it would use its influence to ensure that Aquino would win the arbitration.

As a Japanese was the head of the arbitration court, the US was sure Aquino would win. What it should do was but to use its military power to force China to obey the arbitration ruling.

Aquino did win the arbitration and the US did send two aircraft carrier battle groups to threaten China but could not subdue China. China conducted large-scale military drills to show its determination to fight a war to protect its rights and interests. The US had to give up as it had no intention to fight for Philippines’ rights and interests.

The Philippines had got nothing but been banned by Chinese navy and coast guards in exploiting the fishing and energy resources in the sea area it regards as its exclusive economic zone.

Now the Philippines is entirely a loser due to its illusion that the US will take actual actions in interfering with its disputes with China as the US has tried to make it believe.

The US is also a loser. It wanted to exploit China’s disputes with its neighbors to contain China and show that the US dominates the South China Sea, but China’s determination to fight a war to defend its rights and interests has made the US give up its attempt to interfere with the disputes. The US now only wants freedom of navigation and flightover that has never been hindered by China.

Previously, the US opposed China’s proposal on resolution of the disputes through bilateral talks. Its alleged that China might use its strength to force its terms on weaker nations. It wanted all China’s opposing claimants to hold multilateral talks with China and even wanted to be a party to such talks. At first, Philippine new president Duterte did want the US and Japan to participate in Philippines’ talks with China on the disputes. US did not refuse to participate though it had repeatedly declared that it would not take side in the disputes.

Now, the US has changed its stance that opposes bilateral talks. US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said in Manila on October 24 that the United States supports direct dialogue negotiations between the Philippines and China in settling the South China Sea dispute.

Mr. Russel has given a clear signal to all the claimants in South China Sea disputes that the US will not interfere. No claimant can rely on US help in the disputes.

The US has not only lost face but also almost all its influence in Southeast Asia, poor United States of America.

China is the absolute winner.

It now is the host of not only Scarborough Shoal but also all the disputed waters. Other claimants can exploit the resources in disputed waters only when they have held successful bilateral talks with China on cooperation with China in exploiting the resources. China will not allow them to exploit the resources alone and the US will not interfere.

What about China allowing Philippine fishermen to return to Scarborough Shoal and the areas around it to fish?

Does that not mean that China is respecting the arbitration ruling it has openly rejected?

Certainly not!

Please note that Philippine President Duterte has not concluded any agreement between China and the Philippines on Philippine fishermen’s right to fish there. The Philippines has no right to fish there. It is now allowed to fish there because its president has visited China to recover the long-term friendship between China and the Philippines.

The situation now is that China allows its friend to fish in its shoal and its sea area around the shoal.

That is why Chinese Foreign Ministry says there is no change in the situation at Scarborough Shoal after Philippine fishermen were allowed to fish there.

What situation? China owns the Shoal and the waters around it. Allowing a friend to fish there does not change the ownership.

Seeing that Malaysia soon follows Duterte’s example. Reuters says in its report “China and Malaysia sign deals on navy vessels” yesterday, “Malaysia has agreed to buy four Chinese naval vessels and pledged with Beijing to handle South China Sea disputes bilaterally, a Chinese official said on Tuesday, in what could be China’s latest counter to U.S. influence in the region.”

Article by Chan Kai Yee

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3 Comments on “South China Sea Disputes: Who Wins and Who Loses?”

  1. Joseph says:

    Do we need to even ask? With Duterte’s quarrel with his now-former American master, he just deliver a clean victory for China. It remains to be seen how he defends the right of self determination for his people from the American onslaught. He may end up just like Jose Rizal a century ago.
    As on American losses in the past, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the American had never admit defeats, officially. They will use any terms and language to prevent the word ‘defeat’ from the historical records, at least in the history they’re writing. Any insignificant term would matter to confuse people. They used the term ‘armistice’ in the Korean War. They used the term ‘withdrawal’ in Vietnam. Even in the spy plane incident, George W. Bush apologized to China to get China to release the American crew, but retracted his apology when things had cool down. Right now, on American-written history, they never apologized over the incident. On the SCS, it is obvious that the American flatly lost. But they can mince word by saying that it was actually the Philippines who lost since the American never ‘officially’ get involved into the conflict. Who would believe this crap? We certainly won’t. It is a different story for the American. Experience told me to never overestimate the dumbness of the American. They will believe whatever they are told. Take a look at their election, what kind of sane and educated people will even choose Trump or Clinton? It is like choosing Beavis or Butthead. Whoever wins, the American loses.

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  2. Fre Okin says:

    It’s the economy stupid! This is what decide elections. Most voters vote for their economic wellbeing. Same consideration in the South China Sea disputes.

    US should learn at the end of the day countries having disputes with China prioritize their economy over the security, Freedom of Navigation phony baloney US have being trying to sell. Modern Asians are not plantation workers, not so easy to fool!

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  3. Steve says:

    Excellent Commentary – This is the year of China’s rise in the SCS and 2018 should be better. Its incredible how the trade winds are changing.

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