CHINA'S IRON FIST IN A VELVET GLOVE
The Japan Times, June 28, 2012
SINGAPORE — China could easily grab control of the disputed Scarborough Shoal fishing grounds in the South China Sea using its increasingly modern and powerful armed forces. Chinese naval, air and amphibious units, working in unison, already have the capability to enforce Beijing's claims of island ownership and maritime control in the northern sector of the sea, where the shoal is located just 220 km from the Philippine mainland.
China dwarfs the puny Philippine military. Yet it deliberately chose not to deploy its regular armed forces to secure the unoccupied shoal, even though the standoff with the Philippines continued for more than two months. On June 16, Manila withdrew its remaining two coast guard vessels from the Scarborough area, ostensibly because of a passing typhoon, without saying whether they would return after the weather clears.
There are several reasons for China's decision not to use warships. The Philippines is an ally of the United States and China could not be sure the U.S. would not intervene if Chinese armed forces became directly involved in a Scarborough clash and takeover.
In the past few years, China's increasingly assertive actions not just in the South China Sea, but also against Japan over disputed islands and maritime boundaries in the East China Sea, have alarmed and alienated many of its neighbors. "The last thing China wants is to see these countries and the U.S. joining hands against China," Chen Xiangyang, deputy director of the Institute of World Political Studies in the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, wrote in the online edition of China Daily on June 11.
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