An influential Chinese paper warned this week that Chinese military forces should begin preparing for a ‘military confrontation’ against the US ahead of next week’s UN ruling on the South China Sea dispute. The editorial reads:
As the result of the international arbitration over the South China Sea dispute approaches, China is undertaking a military drill from July 5 to 11 in the waters around the Xisha Islands. In Western media reports, this exercise is happening “at a sensitive time,” because the arbitral result will be announced on July 12. Beijing has announced its position of neither participation in nor recognition of the arbitration.
The South China Sea dispute has been greatly complicated after heavy US intervention. Now an international tribunal has also been included, posing more threat to the integrity of China’s maritime and territorial sovereignty.
Regardless of the principle that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) shall not arbitrate on territorial disputes, the arbitration becomes nothing but a farce. But the US could use it to impose more pressure on China, causing more tensions in the South China Sea.
Washington has deployed two carrier battle groups around the South China Sea, and it wants to send a signal by flexing its muscles: As the biggest powerhouse in the region, it awaits China’s obedience.
The US will probably project more military power to the West Pacific in a bid to press China militarily and politically [bolded for emphasis]
As long as all parties are still reasonable, the situation in the South China Sea will be controllable. China’s refusal to cooperate with the tribunal is legitimate based on UNCLOS. All hyperbole and distortion of China’s stance will not make a real difference.
If the US is taking advantage of the mess to deploy more military forces to the South China Sea, which are a direct threat to China’s national security, China’s military exercises could be regarded as a countermeasure. [bolded for emphasis]
The trajectory of the South China Sea dispute, after July 12, will be decided by the intentions of the major players. The new Philippine government seems reluctant to keep the territorial face-off as a priority for Sino-Philippine ties. Now, it is some outside powers that are eager to make waves in the region.
China should speed up building its military capabilities of strategic deterrence. Even though China cannot keep up with the US militarily in the short-term, it should be able to let the US pay a cost it cannot stand if it intervenes in the South China Sea dispute by force.
China is a peace-loving country and deals with foreign relations with discretion, but it won’t flinch if the US and its small clique keep encroaching on its interests on its doorstep.
China hopes disputes can be resolved by talks, but it must be prepared for any military confrontation. This is common sense in international relations.” (Source)
(Analyst Comment: China has repeatedly rejected the UN’s authority over its South China Sea claims. The Chinese military is serious about defending its territories, and is prepared to defend them if US military intervention threatens Chinese sovereignty or military operations. It’s widely expected that the UN will rule against China in the dispute, opening up legitimacy to claims from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
Given that war is not a favorable outcome for the US or China, we should probably expect a continuation of the status quo for now: China keeps its islands and continues to build up a military presence there, while diplomatic avenues are pursued by the US and the rest of Southeast Asian countries. This is a national security priority for China, who wants to protect its access to commercial fishing and trade routes in the region. As long as China doesn’t interfere with international trade routes, we can likely expect them to continue their military build up in the area.
But in the off-chance that conflict were to occur, there are some significant factors to consider. For one, gauging the outcome of this conflict is difficult because we don’t know how seriously the Obama administration pursue this policy to war. The outcome is also difficult to assess because the US objectives of the conflict are unknown: would the US seek to clear Chinese military presence from the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoals area, and how far would the Chinese navy be pursued into the South China Sea? With moderate confidence, however, I believe that the U.S. Navy could clear China’s artificial islands in a war that the US is determined to win. With high confidence, we should expect China to retaliate in a way that causes a severe amount of political, economic and military pain, as a matter of Chinese national honor. That most likely means cyber attacks against the US. Because of the asymmetric capabilities of the Chinese military, US intervention assuredly comes at a steep price.)