A recent collision between a Chinese coast guard vessel and a Philippine resupply boat near the Second Thomas Shoal has brought attention from across the world to the South China Sea. The question of whether these South China Sea episodes could spark a more serious conflict between China and the US is constantly brought up. This piece aims to examine the existing state of affairs, the viewpoints of significant players, and the rationales behind their hesitation to intensify the matter into a major dispute.
A Delicate Balance
It’s critical to comprehend the intentions and interests of the main stakeholders in the South China Sea as pressures rise. As of right now, it appears that the Philippines, China, and the US are being conservative. President Joe Biden of the United States has underscored the country’s commitment to defending its friend, the Philippines, without expressing a want for conflict, in discrepancy to President Xi Jinping of China, who has stated a desire for peaceful collaboration and agreement. For its part, Manila emphasizes its right to self- determination while insisting it isn’t at war with China.
Why Escalation Is Unwanted
All parties concerned are worried about the South China Sea escalation for several reasons.
China’s primary goal is to rescue its economy, and it can achieve this goal without using kinetic force by retaining its strategic position in the South China Sea.
In the run-up to a presidential election, the United States may not want to get embroiled in a “third front” fight in Asia given its obligations in Europe and the Middle East.
Domestic and Economic Challenges
An armed war in the South China Sea will impede the Philippines’ ability to recover from its own set of internal and economic issues.
Positive Signs of Diplomacy
There are encouraging signals of diplomacy notwithstanding the tensions. With high-level exchanges and the start of economic working group meetings, U.S.-China ties have been improving. This clears the path for a summit between Presidents Biden and Xi, as does the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Washington.
The Risk of Miscalculation
While intentional warfare appears improbable, unintentional hostilities are still a possibility. Rival maritime powers and strained tempers make the South China Sea a volatile environment. In the past, flare-ups have usually de-risen rather than escalated, which is somewhat comforting.
The Importance of USS Dewey
China might not have taken more harsh measures if the USS Dewey had been stationed close to the scene of the latest mishap. It’s possible that Beijing was gauging how much help Washington would give Manila. Given the Philippines’ concerns about the deteriorating BRP Sierra Madre, the situation surrounding the Second Thomas Shoal is still unclear.
A Difficult Situation
There is a difficult conundrum raised by requests for American involvement in Philippine resupply missions at Second Thomas Shoal. China might have to use more force to halt these operations, putting its military in danger of coming into direct conflict with American forces. China is placed in a challenging situation as a result, and Washington will need to decide how to assist a nominal treaty partner without going to war.
Conflict may arise unintentionally in the South China Sea, which is still a dangerous area. Though it seems unlikely, anyone involved in a planned conflict must exercise caution to avoid making mistakes in judgment. Recent events demonstrate that cooperation and diplomacy can lead to a peaceful conclusion. The globe is paying close attention to how this plays out, though, as the situation is always changing.