A still taken from a video released by the Chinese Coast Guard through the Chinese embassy in Manila shows a collision between a Chinese Coast Guard ship and a Philippines’ vessel during a resupply mission in Second Thomas Shoal, in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing and Manila traded blame for the October 22 incidents. Photo: AFP
My Take
by Shi Jiangtao
My Take
by Shi Jiangtao

If China hopes to grow its regional influence, it must stop blaming and start listening

  • Beijing has refused to accept that its attempts to project power are creating the sources of its own predicament
  • As China’s ascendancy wavers and its economy sputters, pressure tactics on its neighbours will only push them further away, regional leaders say

Persistent tensions have escalated again in the South China Sea following recent collisions between a Chinese Coast Guard ship and a Philippine vessel, and near mid-air encounters between Chinese and American warplanes.

The incidents underscore the acute danger of a major mishap, as China and the United States veer towards a collision course despite a White House confirmation of a summit between Chinese and American leaders in San Francisco next month.
The latest confrontations are a reminder that the spiralling US-China rivalry has brought the world closer to the precipice of war. Instead of anticipating anything resembling a reset of the relationship, Presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden must focus on managing the near-term crisis by clarifying their real intentions and bottom lines.


Philippines condemns ‘floating barrier’ set up by Chinese fishermen in Scarborough Shoal

Philippines condemns ‘floating barrier’ set up by Chinese fishermen in Scarborough Shoal

But recent tensions between Beijing and Manila have also exposed another problem that has long plagued China’s relations with its regional neighbours. As China watches ties with the US and most of its Western allies nosedive, there has been a growing sense in Beijing – which tends to view the world through the lens of power politics and geopolitical fault lines– that it’s under siege.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr complained about the “misleading” narrative that frames the South China Sea dispute “solely through the lens of strategic competition between two powerful countries”.

“This not only denies us our independence and our agency, but it also disregards our own legitimate interests,” he said at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Jakarta in September, without mentioning China.


Philippines accuses Chinese coastguard of firing water cannons at its vessels in disputed waters

Philippines accuses Chinese coastguard of firing water cannons at its vessels in disputed waters
Marcos experienced it first-hand during a state visit to Beijing in January. China’s state-controlled media hailed the beginning of a “new golden age” between the two countries and praised the Philippine leader for his “independent diplomacy” that “soberly and wisely deals with ‘coercion and temptation’ from Washington.”
But when he later visited Tokyo and Washington to seek closer military ties amid resurfacing tensions with China over the maritime dispute, Chinese media and experts abruptly labelled his country “a pawn” of US-led efforts to contain China.

In the wake of the marine collisions between Chinese and Philippine vessels near the contested Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as Ren’ai reef, on October 22, the nationalist tabloid Global Times issued a stern warning: If Manila continues to act “recklessly” to test Beijing’s resolve, “it is only a matter of time before it leads to friction or even conflicts,” it said in an editorial on October 24. “Who stands to lose, and who stands to gain? The answers to these questions are obvious,” it said, urging Manila to back down.

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Zhou Bo, a retired PLA senior colonel and a senior fellow of the Centre for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, issued an explicit warning. “We have been too soft on the Filipinos,” he said at an international conference on the South China Sea in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday. Zhou put the blame squarely on the US and said China was the only country that would “respond militarily to American provocations.”

“China and the US can only cool down after another collision at … sea or in the air, which I don’t look forward to but there’s no other answer to this problem,” he said, when commenting on the US-led international support for Manila.

Such fiery remarks will not help Beijing win over Manila. China, which is facing growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the region, needs the Philippines on its side if it hopes to counter Washington’s alliance-based Indo-Pacific strategy.


Why the South China Sea dispute remains one of the region’s most pressing issues

Why the South China Sea dispute remains one of the region’s most pressing issues

As China’s ascendancy wavers and its economy sputters, Chinese officials and experts have become increasingly truculent towards criticism, refusing to accept that the way China attempts to project power is the source of its own predicament.

Ironically, Beijing’s pressure tactics, reminiscent of Washington’s “with us or against us” dichotomy, have sowed doubts about China’s often proclaimed “peaceful intentions”, and pushed its neighbours further away.

US, Australia, Japan would join Philippines-China ‘fight’, says analyst

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is visiting Beijing this weekend, was also critical of China during a trip to the White House last week, saying China did not see itself as “a status-quo power”.

“It seeks a region and a world that is much more accommodating of its values and interests,” he said. “The true measure of a superpower’s strength is the ability to pull the world back from the brink of conflict,” he added.

Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, also offered clear-eyed advice to Beijing. He suggested at the Asia Future Summit this month that China learn from the US, which has been dominant and “remains welcomed” in the region as it gave countries “space to grow, to develop, to compete with one another peacefully and not be held down or squatted upon”.

“So it depends on how China plays its cards and how deftly it is able to grow its influence without making other countries feel that they have been squeezed, pressured or coerced,” Lee said.