Fears are growing that there will be a sharp rise in tensions in the South China Sea in the next few weeks after an international tribunal delivers a ruling on disputed islands and reefs that Beijing has said it will reject.
Western officials say they fear China will react to the ruling of the international tribunal for the law of the sea, which is expected to side with the Philippines, by raising the stakes in the busy trade route, expanding its land reclamation and construction activities to reefs in the Scarborough Shoal, close to Manila.
The White House is under pressure from the top US commander in the Pacific and some in Congress to take a tougher line with Beijing and carry out more military patrols close to China’s fortified islands, where there have already been close encounters between ships and planes from the two rival powers.
Beijing, which argues the tribunal has no jurisdiction on the matter, has warned the US against escalating the conflict, saying it will defend itself if necessary.
“Of course, when the ruling comes out our friends in Philippines and in the United States will preach that the tribunal has binding power, and that China must obey the result. But surely we will be firm in saying that the results are illegal, that the tribunal has no binding power and China will not accept the ruling,” said Liu Zhenmin, the Chinese deputy foreign minister who has been a lead negotiator on the issue.