Image of South China Sea. (Google Maps)

Chicken game In South China Sea

By Kim MIn Young

The game of chicken is as old as cars themselves. For bragging rights of bravery, two drivers drive at each other, and the first to move out of the way is considered “chicken”, that is, scared. But sometimes both are so obstinate that neither swerved and they both die.

A game of chicken is happening in the South China Sea now.

Many countries are involved in this dispute whether directly or indirectly and it is becoming a world concern. This is why not only Chinese or American but also other citizens in the world need to pay attention to what really happened in South China Sea.

China doesn’t want to stop building military bases in South China Sea. To counter China’s action, America is increasing its military pressure in the Philippines, for example, and has recently strengthened ties with its old foe Vietnam.

Barack Obama has said Washington supports Vietnam’s territorial claims and promised it greater access to military arms. The arms race in the South Chinas Sea is on.

There are two reasons why China doesn’t alter its position. One is for their historical claim of the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands, and other islets. The other reason is that they the world order as changing, with themselves taking a more dominant role militarily and politically.

The dispute in the South China Sea is a challenge to America’s role as sole super power. China wants to reorganize international dynamic by playing chicken in the South China Sea.

The tensions go to the heart of a strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China intent on becoming the region’s dominant power.

China has sharpened the conflict by building military bases in the Spratly Islands and other islets claiming historical rights to these. As Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and many other countries adjoin this area, they fear that Beijing intends to interfere with navigation and their rights to fish and drill for oil and gas.

The effect that annexation of Spratly Islands may bring is not confined to adjoining countries because of international trade routes and possible petroleum reserves. The South China Sea is thought to have significant oil and gas reserves and is a route for about $4.5tn in trade. These factors give reason for China to desire hegemony in this area despite diplomatic conflicts.

China wants to get dominant power in this region not only by building military bases but also by rejecting international arbitration. Through this move, China tries to have a grip on this region.

A Chinese official said that China will ignore the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration over the South China Sea requests Philippines to settle dispute through bilateral negotiation.

Given that many countries are related to this territorial conflict, settlements between only two countries can’t solve this controversy in South China Sea. The reason why Philippines refuse to end this conflict by having bilateral talks with China is also based on this concern.

Benigno Aquino, a president of the Philippines, expresses concern about bilateral negotiation saying ‘How does an agreement of two entities bind the other four?’

If China really wants to finish this dispute, they would change their stance and participate in multilateral meeting. But they don’t. Why China prefer bilateral way is simple. It is not because bilateral negotiation is the peaceful way but because it is the easiest way for China to end this dispute.

Because of China’s ambition to boost their international status the South China Sea has now became a powder keg. China’s provocative moves against peace are could be the start of an arms race in South China Sea and it threatened world peace. By playing the game of chicken, China is heightening tensions. If China wants to prove that they are a influential and legitimate country, it is better to prove it by showing wisdom and capacity not by creating conflicts.

Kim is.a student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Korea, majoring in English linguistic and is keen on the happenings in China

Editor’s note – The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has ruled on Tuesday that China had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights by endangering Philippine ships and fishing and oil projects. However, China has declared that it will ignore the ruling.