World leaders have expressed fears that a global war could ignite next week over a territorial dispute between the US and China in the South China Sea.
The long-running conflict between China and the Philippines is set to conclude on Tuesday, when the Hague will deliver its verdict on the “Nine-Dash Line” – the demarcation line used by the government of the Republic of China (ROC / Taiwan) with the help of the United States legal office, and by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), for their claims of the major part of the South China Sea.
The decision comes three years after the Philippines brought its case to tribunal, with Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also laying claims to overlapping areas of the ocean.
China claims virtually all of the resource-rich sea as it’s own, and has continued with an aggressive building programme of military ports, artificial runways and fortresses, despite international condemnation.
The country has already said it will ignore the Hague’s ruling, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying it “would only escalate the disputes and tensions.”
Ahead of the ruling, the US government called for “all claimants to avoid provocative actions or statements.”
But in an editorial in the state-owned People Daily newspaper – the official mouthpiece of Beijing – China warned there would be “a price to pay” for further interference from the US.
The newspaper editorial said: “There is a bottom line with every issue, and a price will be paid if that line is crossed.
“If the United States, regardless of the cost, chooses the path of ‘brinkmanship’ that pressures and intimidates others, there will be only one result, that is, that the US bears all the responsibility for possibly further heightening tensions in the South China Sea.
“China has a solid-rock position over safeguarding China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. It will not want anything that does not belong to it, but it will ensure that every inch of land it owns is safe and sound.”
Tensions between China and the US have been simmering for several months.
The US has become increasingly angry at what it sees as China’s “militarising” of the South China Sea, with Barack Obama reportedly considering sending US artillary units to the region as a deterrent.
Chinese officials are already angry with America carrying out naval missions within the South China Sea, under the convention of Freedom of Navigation in international waters.
Last month Chinese fighter jets flew within 15 metres of a US aircraft over the East China Sea – a move which Secretary of State John Kerry described as a “provocative and destabilising act”.
Seemingly demonstrating its resolve, China has begun a week-long series of combat drills near the southern island province of Hainan and the Paracel islands in the South China Sea, which focused on air control, surface operations and anti-submarine warfare.
Two guided missile destroyers and a frigate were among the naval vessels taking part in the drills, according to state news.
However, the paper claimed this was just normal naval activity which “is not connected with specific events or countries”.