On Tuesday evening, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Manila, conveying Washington’s interest in avoiding a "confrontation" in the South China Sea, following Beijing’s refusal to submit to the judgment of the Hague arbitration court’s ruling that rejects China’s claim to most of the waters in the region.
Beijing blasted the ruling and has steadfastly denied its findings, arguing, as a majority of international legal scholars have, that the court lacks jurisdiction over the country under a treaty which requires both parties to a dispute to first submit to being bound by the court’s decisions, what is known as conditional jurisdiction.
China has also expressed its growing disdain with United States meddling in the region, part of the Obama Administration’s "pivot towards Asia," with the express goal of empowering China’s regional competitors to encircle the regime. Chinese President Xi Jinping also warned this weekend against Japan intervening in the territorial dispute, given that Tokyo has no active claim to the waters.
While calling for calm, US Secretary of State John Kerry was reticent to forfeit the leverage garnered by the international tribunal, claiming, "The decision itself is binding, but we’re not trying to create a confrontation."
Kerry called on China and the Philippines to join in two-party talks to try to establish a compromise, one that will certainly leave Beijing with less regional control than they believe themselves entitled to.
"We hope to see a process that will narrow the geographic scope of the maritime disputes, set standards for behaviour in contested areas, lead to mutually acceptable solutions, perhaps even a series of confidence-building steps," said Kerry.
The statement comes in the wake of Beijing accusations that the US, Japan and Australia, all not parties to the dispute, are “fanning the flames” of regional tensions by making a joint statement on the South China Sea.
"Now it is the time to test whether you are peacekeepers or troublemakers," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
As Kerry looks to simmer tensions before they erupt into war, Loud & Clear’s Brian Becker sat down with author Patrick Lawrence and activist David Ewing to discuss the situation.
John Kerry says he supports bilateral talks – will they work?
"I think we are going to see a couple of things come out of this meeting. Number one, we see Kerry come back and fight his corner in what is a really deep divide among the foreign policy people in Washington," explained Lawrence. "Manila’s approach to the Hague in 2013 and everything that led up to the decision a couple weeks ago, represented a sort of Clintonian, confrontational stance towards the Chinese favored by Clinton when she was Secretary of State and certainly will be favoured again if she wins the election, and the Pentagon, as was noted by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter."
"As soon as the Hague decision was made, you saw immediately a sort of scramble, a withdraw or a surrender of territory. No sooner was a decision made than those who were supposed to be its beneficiaries retreated," said Lawrence. "Well, the decision didn’t really mean all that much and you are starting to see that."
"China is learning that we are desperate to see America push its way further into the Western Pacific and confront the Chinese and stop them and so on. It is a distortion of the Asian objective," explained the author. "They want good relations with China, but that doesn’t come from confrontation."
"What Kerry is expressing is certain partial recognition that once again the Americans have overplayed their hand and now he has to go back in and repair the damage."
Did the United States encourage the dispute between China and the Philippines?
"I think that China, of course, wants good relations and they need peace to build those relations. If it gets to a military confrontation with the West then all bets are off, nobody can tell what is going to happen, but it is clear that it is going to be bad for the West and it will be very bad for Chinese Socialism, too," said Ewing.
"So China has played this long game and tried to hold back this coming confrontation that will take place sometime in the future and Chinese diplomacy, I believe, is aimed that way and China expects that at some time there will be some kind of confrontation," suggests Ewing.
"Maybe it will take place over Taiwan independence, take place over the South China Sea islands, maybe it will take place over Japanese aggression or what takes places in North Korea – nobody knows."
"Even more than just the political policy of the United States, look at the military preparations that the US is making in the Pacific where there is constant military pressure and a buildup of forces in a way that surrounds the Pacific in a way that constantly threatens," said Ewing.