By Wang Qi, Sina English
There is increasing possibility that small-scale military conflicts might take place between the Philippines, Vietnam and China as the two countries refused to concede in the South China Sea disputes, according to a latest report issued by the Brussel-based non-profit group “International Crisis Group.”
The Philippines is going further and further on the path of high militarization and nationalism, the group said.They suggested intervention by international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union and World Bank to prevent and defuse a possible conflict in the South China Sea.
In terms of the turbulent situation in the area, the report pointed out that the high possibility of military conflicts is related to these countries’ internal economic and political tensions, which drive them to take harder actions, leading the disputes to a wrong direction.
“If the dispute-related countries fail to reach consensus on the issue, it might be pushed too early to an irreversible situation,” said the report.
The current stalemate between China and the Philippines can be traced back to March 2011, when a Philippine ship, doing the so-called research in the natural gas-rich waters of Liyue Bank, were forced to leave by two Chinese patrol ships.
Moreover, latest faceoff over Huangyan Island starting in April has grilled the situation.
The group said because the Philippines dispatched its largest warships to supervise Chinese fishing vessels, China was forced to arrange patrol vessels for the safety of its own fishermen. Later the Philippines replaced the warships with coast guard vessels.Such high vigilance results in high tensions in the South China Sea over the two months.
The group criticized that Manila’s reckless move of dispatching warships sent a wrong signal to Beijing. “The faceoff, to the Philippines, is not an action under full consideration; however, other dispute-related countries, such as China, do not think so. “
After the incident, China announced to continue to dispatch patrolling vessels to protect fishermen of the Huangyan Island, which in turn, adds to legality of this arrangement and weakens Philippines’ control over the area.
China’s law enforcement vessels have been patrolling around ever since, which was called “Huangyan Island pattern” by some Chinsese military experts.
The group believes the military strength and hard attitudes of the dispute-related countries might stoke up the situation. But thanks to Chinese government’s high restraint, the fire hasn’t been set so far. Besides, other countries will not lightly wage wars against an important trade partner and a major military power.
The latest progress of the issue is that China has set up a new administrative unit Sansha City, covering Xisha, Nansha and Zhongsha Islands in order to declare its sovereignty over those areas.
The Philippines, in response, has lodged protest against China, whose Defense Ministry said Chinese navy is to establish a combat patrolling system so as to take patrol tasks at Nansha islands by air and sea.
Then, what to expect next in the South China Sea dispute?“There’s slim chance that China have major military conflicts with the Philippines and Vietnam, but it will be highly possible if small skirmishes happen,” said Pollin, an assistant with the Southeast Asia studies center of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
China is not willing to use its military force to counter its rivals because it will put its overseas interest at risk, he said.
Another expert of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asia studies also held that the dispute might spiral to offshore conflicts in this July but said no one is willing to see any conflict, which will dampen the region’s stability, economic growth and navigation freedom.
”Military action in South China Sea will strain ties built between China and Southeast Asian countries in the past two decades, and ruin China’s principle of peaceful development ,” he said.
“Each party of the disputes still maintains the willingness to ease tensions through dialogue and effective measures so as to build trust and reduce clashes in the sea.”