‘To save face, China may turn more aggressive’
Jose Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - July 15, 2016 - 12:00am

WASHINGTON – In the aftermath of the UN court ruling invalidating China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, the Chinese government may be forced to take more aggressive actions aimed at its domestic audience, to save face, analysts here said.

Testifying before a US congressional committee hearing on Wednesday retired admiral Dennis Blair, former commander of the US Pacific Command, said the United States should oppose some of China’s most extreme claims, by force if necessary.

Blair, now chairman of the think tank Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, said one of those extreme claims is Scarborough Shoal, which the United States used as a bombing range for many years and even paid the Philippines for its use. The shoal called Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc by Filipinos is much closer to the Philippines than it is to China.

“The United States should support Philippine opposition to further Chinese aggression against Scarborough Shoal using military force if necessary,” he said.

Emotions are running high and it will take some time for the dust to settle, for tempers to cool down and for a sober analysis of both the tribunal’s decision and its ramifications and also an assessment of the way forward, they said.

“We believe strongly that once the dust settles and the rhetoric subsides, this decision opens the door to some very practical and potentially productive discussions among the various claimants in the South China Sea,” a senior State Department official said.

Analysts have called the court ruling a significant defeat for China and a resounding victory for the Philippines, which brought the case before the UN Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague.

The tribunal rejected the nine-dash line as a basis for Chinese claims to most of the South China Sea. While avoiding opinions on the sovereignty disputes about ownership of disputed features in the Spratly Islands, it said the Philippines has jurisdiction over the marine and seabed resources.

Blair said the objective of US military opposition to China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea is not to contain China, but to encourage it to settle its claims with its neighbors peacefully.

He said China’s rejection of the court’s ruling will call into question China’s adherence to any of the international treaties it has ratified.

China will find it much more difficult to gain the trust of both its neighbors and other more distant countries with which it deals, Blair said.

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