Winds of war between Beijing and Manila blowing across the South China Sea
Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In their public statements, Manila and Beijing are seemingly stoking the winds of war blowing across the South China Sea over disputed islands in which other Asia-Pacific nations, including the United States, have a stake.
Beijing warned yesterday that it was ready to respond to any escalation of a tense, month-long standoff with the Philippines at Scarborough Shoal, a reef between Luzon Island and Zhongsha Islands.
"The Chinese side has ... made all preparations to respond to any escalation of the situation by the Philippine side," Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying said after summoning Alex Chua, chargé d'affaires at the Philippines Embassy in Beijing on Monday, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday. Fu made a "serious representation" about the standoff.
"It is obvious that the Philippine side has not realised that it is making serious mistakes and instead is stepping up efforts to escalate tensions," Fu told Chua. "It is hard for us to be optimistic about the situation".
Fu's warning was followed by a strongly worded commentary on the front page of the People's Daily's overseas edition yesterday. "Although China will do its best to resolve the tension through diplomacy ... goodwill runs out when one has done all it can to meet its obligations and there is no need to tolerate any more when the situation should no longer be tolerated."
Manila said yesterday that it was working to ease tensions in the area. "We are endeavouring to undertake a new diplomatic initiative which we hope will help the situation," Filipino sources said.
The row erupted on 8 April when a Filipino warship tried to arrest the crews of Chinese fishing boats near the shoal, which is claimed by both countries. The two countries have since kept naval ships stationed in the area to protect their boats and national interests.
For the past month, tensions have run high in the region and despite its efforts, the international community have failed to ease them.
Still, few experts expect the dispute to escalate into open war between the two countries any time soon. In fact, many expect that a diplomatic solution will be found.
In the meantime, Filipino and Chinese energy companies have announced discussions about possible cooperation to develop a natural gas claim in the South China Sea.
Such a move could help ease tensions, especially since a 2006 study estimated the project to hold up to 20 trillion cubic feet of natural gas or more.
Among all the nations in the Asia-Pacific region involved in the dispute, China has the most extensive claims in the South China Sea.
Regional supremacy would provide a major strategic advantage in terms of trade and access to oil and natural gas.
Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan are opposed to China's expansionism, and can rely on the support of the United States, which has major strategic interests in the area of its own.
In recent months, the region has seen various incidents involving Navy ships and fishing boats from countries like China, Vietnam and the Philippines, each vying for access to the same rich fishing grounds.