6
Jun

An obscure court in The Hague will soon issue a ruling likely to inflame tensions in the South China Sea and force Washington to clarify how far it is willing to go to defend its allies in Manila.

The international tribunal is due to issue a decision this month over territorial disputes in the strategic waterway that have pitted China against its smaller neighbor, the Philippines. Most experts believe the court will side with Manila on the key issues.

But China has already rejected the court’s authority and vowed to stick to its far-reaching claims over the contested shoals, reefs, and rocks that the Philippines also asserts are its own. With a minuscule navy and coast guard, Manila will be looking to the United States for both diplomatic and military support. But, so far, Washington has stopped short of promising to come to the rescue of the Philippines if its ships clash with Chinese vessels in the South China Sea.

“We’ve had a number of uncomfortable senior-level engagements with the Filipinos over the past few years where they have pressed us, quite hard at times, to make our commitments clear,” a former senior U.S. government official, who was present at some of the discussions, told Foreign Policy. But the United States always declined to clarify its stance, the ex-official said.

The showdown in the South China Sea has been heating up for years, thanks to China’s large-scale land reclamation and aggressive use of fishing fleets and coast guard ships to bully other countries to steer clear of what Beijing considers its territory. Read more…

  • By Dan De Luce is Foreign Policy’s chief national security correspondent., Keith Johnson is a senior reporter covering energy for Foreign Policy.
  • June 2, 2016

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