Expert panel expects rising tension in the South China Sea


A panel of experts on Asian and maritime issues predicted to a March 21 National Press Club Newsmaker audience that tension in the South China Sea will increase after an international court ruling expected in the next few months.

China has claimed large areas of the South Chinese Sea, including the Spratly Islands also claimed by the Philippines, which has sued under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Gregory Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies explained.

Poling said he expects at least part of the anticipated ruling to go against China on the technicality that a reef taken by China is not an island but only a rock, and therefore China has no right to it.

“The idea that one country in the world can claim rights to areas 1,000 miles from its shore while everybody else is limited to 12 miles . . . is not sustainable, ” he said.

According to Poling the United States’s strategy is to generate international disapproval of China for violating the treaty, which was signed by 167 nations but not the U.S., until China realizes that it is in its long term interest to reduce its claim.

“The goal is just to make China look as bad in the international arena as possible,” he said. He termed the policy correct because “there is no military solution.”

“There is no short term solution to this,” he added. “This is a 10 to 15-year problem.”

Meanwhile, as the continuing buildup in the Spratly Islands enables the Chinese to increase their air and sea movements in the region, tensions will rise, Poling said.