BLUF

A lukewarm reaction to Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea will ensure continued tensions

Summary

Quoting former Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, this report says China is "capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios, short of war with the United States". The absence of outright war reflects not only China’s ability to move the threshold for instigating open conflict, but also the fact that law, justice and security are not being respected. It also reflects that some have come to terms with this. In 2016 the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in support of the case brought by the Philippines against China's sovereign claims in the South China Sea (SCS). China's refusal to acknowledge the ruling in international law is exacerbated by its continued claiming and militarising of the artificial islands and other features in the disputed waters. However, the response from the international community has been akin to, 'stop, or I will say stop again'. The historical lack of intervention in China's actions in the SCS only delayed the current and inevitable confrontation seen today between China and those states affected by its actions. The saying goes, 'the standard you walk past is the standard you accept'. What message does this signal to smaller pacific nation's wishing to resist influence from a power like China?  Could we begin to see signs of a normalised deviance among ASEAN members to China's expansionism as a result? If so, what is China offering that Australia cannot or will not? While the situation is short of war, and actors will endeavour to avoid the escalation of conflict, one thing is clear – the challenge for positive peace has begun.