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    In this undated photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese H-6K bomber patrols the islands and reefs in the South China Sea.

    2016 Summary: South China Sea Dispute Shows No Sign of Resolving

    © AP Photo/ Xinhua
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    The outgoing year saw no full-scale escalation of the territorial dispute over the South China Sea, but the tense situation remains unresolved, Russian expert Anton Tsvetov told Sputnik China.

    In an interview with Sputnik China, expert Anton Tsvetov of the Center for Strategic Research, a Moscow-based think-tank, said that although there was no full-blown escalation of the territorial spat over the South China Sea throughout 2016, it can't be said that the situation has changed for the better.

    Tsvetov recalled that the main negative expectations regarding the situation in the South China Sea in 2016 were related to the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague on Manila's claim against China.

    Beijing, for its part, also added fuel to the fire by lashing out at The Hague's arbitration and its legitimacy, according to Tsvetov, leading to a low-key reaction after The Hague Court announced its decision on the matter.

    Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, photographed by a USN surveillance aircraft in 2015
    © REUTERS/ U.S. Navy/Handout
    Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, photographed by a USN surveillance aircraft in 2015

    "One month before The Hague Court's move, the Philippines elected its new President Rodrigo Duterte, who decided not to capitalize on a legal and diplomatic victory in The Hague and actually put the court's decision on the back burner in exchange for the normalization of relations with China," Tsvetov said.

    He added that right now, Manila "continues its drift toward China," with Duterte knowing full well in the run-up to the inauguration of the new US President, "the Philippines can flirt with Beijing without fearing possible sanctions from Washington."

    "Against this background, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) [position on] the South China Sea issue was considerably weakened, especially given that many ASEAN countries were focused on resolving internal problems," Tsvetov said referring, for example, to Vietnam which "turned to the traditional combination of its cooperation with China and the development of its own capabilities to contain Beijing."

    However, the absence of open confrontation in the South China Sea in 2016 does not mean the situation is improving, Tsvetov said, citing Beijing's efforts to continue boosting its clout on the islands which it  considers part of its territory.

    Chinese fishing vessel sails by Fiery Cross Reef, background, also known as Yongshu Reef, of the Spratly Islands in South China Sea. File photo.
    © AP Photo/ Xinhua, Wang Cunfu
    Chinese fishing vessel sails by Fiery Cross Reef, background, also known as Yongshu Reef, of the Spratly Islands in South China Sea. File photo.

    He recalled that among other things, Beijing launched direct flights to one of the airfields on the islands and made global headlines with the news that Chinese sailors had intercepted an underwater US drone in international waters in the South China Sea region.

    "Even though the drone was finally returned to the US after brief talks, the interception clearly indicated China's drive to clarify who is 'the master' of the South China Sea," Tsvetov said.

    On the whole, China's activity in the South China Sea in 2016 can be described as "rather intense," he said, referring to Beijing's naval drills with Russia, the deployment of China's only aircraft carrier to the region and the installation of anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems  on all seven artificial islands created by Beijing in the South China Sea.

    Tsvetov did not rule out that US President-elect Donald Trump may take a hard line against Beijing on the South China Sea issue, trying to compensate for the US's "retreat" from Asia which has repeatedly been mentioned by Obama's critics.

    "Given the positions China won in 2016, Trump's fresh assertiveness could mean a qualitatively new escalation in the South China Sea," in 2017, Tsvetov concluded.

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    Tags:
    escalation, islands, decision, relations, cooperation, sanctions, Rodrigo Duterte, Donald Trump, South China Sea, China, Philippines
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    • MauMau99
      Trump would do well to stay on his side of the pond. And the Asian countries should know better and be wiser than to help the guy start WW3.
    • Michael Calvin
      i think the ASEAN countries should unite and find a lasting solution to the South China Sea issue not looking up to the united states for confrontation with China
    • tobi.gelando
      The Usa is only looking for new country's to make slave's of the civilians !!!
      If not there will start war so the industry can make money !!!

      I fully agree with Michael Calvin and MauMau 99
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