The South China Sea dispute is once again in the headlines, with notable developments that are raising some concerns about increased tensions in the region. On Saturday, Reuters reported that the Chinese military issued the sternest warning to date regarding U.S. military involvement in the territorial dispute, in part due to combined exercises with the Philippine military. “China's official Liberation Army Daily warned that recent jostling with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have sent ships could boil over into outright conflict, and laid much of the blame at Washington's door,” the Reuters report stated, adding:
‘Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force,’ said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army.
‘Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability.’
On Sunday, Commander of the U.S. Marines in the Pacific Lieutenant General Duane Thiessen reiterated the United States’ defense commitment to the Philippines. In a statement to reporters on Palawan Island, Lieutenant General Thiessen said, “The United States and the Philippines have a mutual defense treaty which guarantees that we get involved in each other's defense and that is self explanatory,” according to a report by ABS-CBSNews.com.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Agence-France Presse reported that China and Russia conducted combined naval exercises in the Yellow Sea. According to the report, “China has 16 naval vessels and two submarines taking part in the exercises while Russia has four warships, according to state media. They will focus on joint air defence, anti-submarine tactics and search and rescue, as well as simulated rescue of hijacked vessels and anti-terrorism drills.” Chinese officials explained that the exercises were intended to promote regional stability. Yet while there may be little to the combined exercises, timing is important for perceptions in the region; as the Agence-France Presse report notes, “they come at a time when Beijing is boosting military spending and more forcefully stating its case in territorial disputes.”
The weekend’s development come on the heels of recent reports that Vietnam and India will continue to explore for energy resources in the contested blocs of Vietnam’s East Sea, also known as the South China Sea. Beijing has reiterated its warning to outside powers to stay out of the regional dispute between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors.