WHY AFRAID?: China believes in the validity of its sovereign claim over shoals and islets in the West Philippines Sea. It insists on a one-on-one discussion to resolve territorial disputes with neighbors, while avowing friendship and peaceful intentions in dealing with the Philippines. It is a member of the United Nations and signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
So why is China refusing to talk directly with the Philippines at the UN arbitral tribunal where the latter has sought a just settlement of their territorial dispute under international law to which both subscribe?
The plausible reason is that China is afraid it cannot justify and defend its overreaching claim over a vast marine area beyond 200 nautical miles of its shores defined by convention as its Exclusive Economic Zone under the UNCLOS that it has solemnly signed.
The neighborhood bully is afraid it might just lose to the kid down the block in an international forum.