U.S. ‘hypocrisy’ and Chinese cash strengthen Beijing’s hand in South China Sea


The list of countries backing Beijing’s stance in the South China Sea just keeps growing — China’s Foreign Ministry boasted last week that nearly 60 had swung behind the country’s rejection of international arbitration in a case brought by the Philippines.

The numbers are questionable, and the idea of gaining the support of distant, landlocked Niger in a dispute about the South China Sea could seem faintly ludicrous.

Yet China’s frantic efforts to rally support ahead of a ruling from an international tribunal in The Hague may not be as meaningless as they might seem. Cold, hard Chinese cash and what many see as American double standards are undermining efforts to build a unified global response to Beijing’s land reclamation activities in the disputed waters and employ international law to help resolve the issue.

The lure of Chinese money is having an impact in the Philippines, where President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has made wildly contradictory comments on the issue but has suggested some openness to bilateral negotiations — if China builds railways there.

U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter urges China to join a “principled security network” for Asia during a regional security summit. (Reuters)
A farcical display of disunity from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was another case in point. On Tuesday, China sensed a mild rebuke when ASEAN appeared to issue a statement expressing “serious concerns” over rising tensions in the South China Sea, urging restraint in land reclamation and full respect for international law.

Within hours, the statement had been retracted for “urgent amendments.” No revised statement ever emerged.