The pressure on the Sierra Madre
A beached ship risks becoming the South China Sea’s latest flashpoint
IN ONE respect, the meeting in Singapore this week between officials from the Association of South-East Asian Nations and China could not have come at a better time. Tensions are mounting dangerously in the much-disputed waters of the South China Sea and this meeting was trying to renew seemingly interminable attempts to agree on a “code of conduct” to lower the risk of conflict. Just nine days earlier the Chinese coast guard prevented Philippine vessels from delivering supplies to a grounded ship near one of the many disputed land features in the sea. And by March 30th the Philippines is to make its submission to a UN tribunal, arguing that the basis of China’s claim to much of the South China Sea is invalid under international law.
Yet China’s attitude to both the ship and the tribunal suggests that this is as bad a time as any to try to reach an agreement. In neither case does it seem interested in a compromise. The South China Sea looks destined to remain a source of anxiety in the region and rivalry between China and America for years to come.