Calling for national unity ahead of today’s verdict by an international tribunal on China’s claims in the South China Sea, state media directed its ire against US and Japan saying that Beijing should be on high alert if tensions escalate putting to test the People’s Liberation Army’s military strength.
“The US and Japan have claimed that relevant countries, including China, should comply with the arbitration result. They stand in sharp confrontation with China, which has announced that the award would be ‘nothing but a piece of paper’,” state-run Global Times said ahead of the verdict of the five-judge arbitral tribunal constituted Permanent Court of Arbitration adjudicating on the Philippines’ petition against China’s claims.
Besides accusing China of taking control of the area around 140 miles from its coast, the Philippines’ petition asked the international tribunal to reject China’s claim to sovereignty over waters within a ‘nine-dash line’ that appears on official Chinese maps.
The U-shaped line represents China’s claims to as much as 90 per cent of the South China Sea (SCS) important for global trade and rich in natural resources, including oil deposits.
“Whether the arbitration will lead to a severe geopolitical crisis has come under the global spotlight,” it said in its editorial titled “China’s reaction to arbitration depends on provocation”.
“We believe the Chinese government must have made a series of contingency plans to deal with subsequent actions. What actions China may take on Huangyan and Ren’ai, (the area under contention) and whether China will announce a SCS Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) depends on the reactions of Philippines to the arbitration result and the degree of US and Japanese provocations,” it said.
“So far, none of the concerned parties want military confrontation. But all are ratcheting up military preparations. The South China Sea has been clouded by unprecedented tensions. It’s uncertain where the situation will head to,” it said.
In a similar editorial another state-run newspaper China Daily said, “The United States and some of its allies are already eyeing Tuesday as a day of triumph, as they believe the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration will rule against China in a case unilaterally brought by the Philippines over their South China Sea dispute. Much fanfare can be expected should the farce directed by Washington finally reach the climax it anticipates”.
China claims almost all of the SCS bit its claim is firmly contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan which have overlapping claims over the area.
“But before it makes any ballyhoo depicting China as a bully disrespectful of international law, the US should bear in mind it will be standing on shaky ground should it choose to trumpet the observance of international rules”, it said.
“Escalated US military provocations cannot be ruled out in the wake of the arbitration ruling should it be able to claim that the ruling “justifies” them. After all, keeping tensions high serves the US’ interests and helps justify its huge military presence in the region as part of its ‘rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific’ strategy,” it said.
“Such belligerency would put to the test the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to cope with what would become an ever more complicated situation,” it said.
“China has consistently called for negotiations and consultations to peacefully solve the maritime disputes. So it is a welcome change to see reports that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said his administration will begin direct talks following Tuesday’s ruling, on topics such as jointly exploiting natural gas reserves and fishing grounds,” it said.
Calling for national unity, the Global Times said “After the post-arbitration wrestling begins, the most important thing for China is to show the outside world the solidarity of its society. For one thing, Chinese society has full confidence in the country’s diplomatic and maritime strength; for another, no matter what price China has to pay for the wrangling, all the Chinese will squarely accept it,” it said.
“The Chinese people and government share the same interests and responsibilities. We should not only safeguard territorial sovereignty, but also make the utmost efforts to maintain peace in China’s periphery, prolonging China’s strategic opportunities for China’s rise,” it said.
“The SCS is a big arena. China will devote its varied resources there. China in the past was weak. It could only express determinations through demonstrations or a few activists visiting its own islands in the South China Sea.
But now it has multiple means at its disposal. It has become a formidable competitor that deserves respect. No power in the world could split a united China. As long as we stick together, provocateurs are doomed to fail,” it said.