The Philippines on Sunday filed a case against China's "territorial invasion" with the UN arbitral tribunal. This comes a day after a nearly two-hour standoff between Chinese coastguard ships and Philippine supply vessels ferrying food and soldiers to Ren'ai Reef. Witnessed by more than a dozen Philippine and Western journalists invited onboard a Philippine ship, the Philippine boats "eventually maneuvered away from the Chinese blockade" and arrived at the reef, winning applause from domestic public opinion and support from the Western media.
Some Westerners allude China to Russia by likening the Nansha Islands to Crimea, in this way causing trouble for and pressuring China.
The Philippines could do nothing but provoke China like a clown under the indulgence of some Western forces. But its acts have produced no geopolitical significance. Considering China's strength, Manila dares not engage in a true collision with China, nor is the West willing to confront China in the South China Sea for Manila's groundless demands. China has good stakes over the South China Sea, and there is no claimed "crisis."
The Philippines is the only country within the region that radically confronts China at the cost of messing up the South China Sea. It's increasingly isolated because a majority of ASEAN countries oppose Manila's actions.
Manila is hasty to hype up the South China Sea conflict, especially the Ren'ai Reef issue, as it heavily relies on the support of Western hawks and this could help create a misguided illusion of powerful governance by Benigno Aquino III.
China must establish a clear red line that a rogue country like the Philippines cannot cross. At the same time, China should expand its military, administrative and economic presence in the South China Sea while defying Manila's self-amusing provocations.
China won't accept or participate in the international arbitration unilaterally initiated and pushed by the Philippines, nor will it implement any decision by the tribunal. Many other countries have done much the same in the past.
The Philippines makes use of a marooned navy ship it intentionally stationed in Ren'ai Reef in 1999 to bolster its territorial claims, but the reef has been in China's actual control with increasing presence of Chinese coastguard forces around the area.
When to end the game between China and the Philippines depends on Beijing and its global diplomatic planning rather than Manila's impulsive politicians.
There is no need for China to escalate conflicts in the South China Sea now. Beijing has been able to control the intensity of tensions.
The beached Philippine ship on the reef is rusting and China could block its resupply mission.
Manila is unwilling to see its soldiers leave the ship, but for China, it's a scene that we should seek to encourage since we are in the position of advantage.