A Friend in Need: China Teaming Up With Russia in South China Sea

© AP Photo / XinhuaIn this undated photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese H-6K bomber patrols the islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
In this undated photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese H-6K bomber patrols the islands and reefs in the South China Sea. - Sputnik International
Following The Hague ruling on the South China Sea Beijing has scored a diplomatic victory by softening up the ASEAN nations. For its part, Russia has demonstrated its solidarity with Beijing by opposing the "internationalization" of the South China Sea dispute.

Although the ruling issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague on the South China Sea has affected Beijing's posture in the region, Beijing has softened up its neighbors through diplomatic means.

"As previously predicted, in practical terms, the verdict has not impacted (at least not yet) China's policy in the South China Sea as the country considered it 'null and void'. Judging by statements made by the Chinese leadership, the development of infrastructure (which includes that of a military nature) on the islands and reefs of the South China Sea will continue," Vladimir Terehov of New Eastern Outlook wrote in his analytical report.

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. - Sputnik International
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Terehov underscored that the outcome of the meeting held by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in late July in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, "is of particular interest" in the context of The Hague ruling.

"As the result of the 49th meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the ASEAN member states, a Joint Statement was adopted on 'the maintenance of peace, security, and stability in the region'. The document is written in rather general terms in a sense that it does not mention China and the PCA verdict," he stressed, adding that the statement was received "positively" by Beijing.

This unanimous silence on The Hague South China Sea ruling was interpreted as Beijing's diplomatic victory by the US and Japan.

"China scored a diplomatic victory Monday, avoiding criticism by Southeast Asia's main grouping over its territorial expansion in the South China Sea even though some of the bloc's members are victims of Beijing's actions," Japan's national daily The Mainichi reported on July 25.

Filipino soldiers gesture at a Chinese Coast Guard vessel on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea March 29, 2014 - Sputnik International
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The media outlet stressed that neither China nor The Hague ruling was mentioned in ASEAN's final joint communiqué.

"China was able to push through its stance in ASEAN with the help of Cambodia, and to some extent Laos, both of which are close friends of Beijing. ASEAN's guiding principle is to make all statements by consensus, so a veto by Cambodia would have prevented a more stinging rebuke," the media outlet suggested.

Commenting on the issue Victor Sumsky, Director of the ASEAN Center at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), noted that the mildly-worded communiqué clearly signals that ASEAN has refused to "commit suicide" despite Washington's pressure.

© Photo : Wikipedia/Voice of AmericaSouth China Sea claims map
South China Sea claims map - Sputnik International
South China Sea claims map

"The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has demonstrated its wisdom. Anti-Chinese or pro-American positions would have meant suicide for the organization," Sumsky told Sputnik.

Activists burn a mock US flag during a protest at the US embassy, to coincide with US Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to the Philippines in Manila on July 27, 2016 - Sputnik International
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"The Association holds a central position in the regional cooperation and integration processes… If the Association as a whole, and not some of its member states, unilaterally tends to [cater to] one of the key players — the US or China, it immediately loses its neutrality and, hence, its central position," he explained.

On the other hand, ASEAN nations do not want to jeopardize their longstanding economic ties with Beijing.

"Last year, China's trade with ASEAN countries reached a colossal $472 billion and the parties stand to lose out from any aggravation of the situation in the region," Terehov stresses.

Citing China's Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, Terehov calls attention to the fact that "at the China-ASEAN forum, 80 percent of the time was devoted to the economy and only a small percent to the situation in the South China Sea."

Southeast Asian nations are also interested in participating in the China-led New Silk Road initiative which is likely to bring them tangible benefits.

Russia's stance on the developments in the South China Sea also deserves attention. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly stated that Moscow opposes the "internationalization" of the South China Sea dispute. According to the Kremlin, the regional dispute should be solved solely by the parties concerned.

On July 28 Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun announced Russia and China will hold joint naval drills in the South China Sea in September, stressing that the exercises are "not aimed at third countries."

The announcement has triggered a heated debate in Western media, with experts wondering whether or not Moscow and China will enter disputed waters during the drills.

However, Moscow's decision to hold joint naval exercises with China in the potential regional powder keg is of a symbolic nature, according to Vzglyad columnist Petr Akopov.

While the US-led NATO bloc is raising the stakes in the South China Sea, Russia is "demonstrating its solidarity with China," he believes. However, Moscow is not intending to interfere in the dispute. Its recent move aims to "emphasize that external forces should not influence the settlement of disputes between neighbors," the journalist stressed.

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