This week Japan said it plans to send its most formidable warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea. Observers waiting for an angry reaction from China—which claims nearly all of that sea and was mighty testy about it last year—were likely disappointed.
Here’s what Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying had to offer:
“If it’s only a normal visit, going to several countries, and passing normally through the South China Sea, then we’ve got no objections, and we hope this kind of normal exchange between relevant countries can play a role promoting regional peace and stability.”
Say what? The response sounded remarkably mellow given Beijing’s belligerent rhetoric before and after an international tribunal ruled last July against its vast claims to the sea, saying they had neither legal nor historical basis.
But it wasn’t just that reaction out of China that sounded unusually measured. In various instances this year, on maritime matters that might have enraged Beijing in 2016—or provoked stern warnings of some sort—Chinese diplomats have given responses that seem disconcertingly lawyerly or diplomatic.