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Monday, April 23, 2012

China De-escalating Its Standoff with the Philippines?

The LA Times reports that China, today, has withdrawn two of its warships from the disputed Scarborough Shoals. However, this article from the Asia Times contends that China has actually increased its naval presence, stating:
China has beefed up its naval might around the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, threatening a clash as the United States and Philippines hold joint military exercises in the vicinity of the potentially energy rich disputed maritime territory.

In a show of force, a state-of-the-art Chinese vessel, the Yuzheng 310, is now on patrol near the Scarborough Shoal, raising the strategic ante as its maritime standoff with the Philippines heads into a second week. Certain news reports have suggested as many as five other Chinese patrol vessels are now in the area.
The LA Times article cited above notes:
China has pressed its claims to South China Sea outcroppings more aggressively after declaring the sea a "core national interest" two years ago.

Vietnam has sparred with China over another set of islands, last year accusing a Chinese boat of cutting the cables to a ship owned by its national oil and gas company. Brunei and Malaysia have also laid claims to the waters, which are lucrative fishing grounds and believed to cover oil and natural gas reserves.

Despite China having agreed to a U.N. convention on maritime zones that limited its reach at sea, official maps of China show almost all of the South China Sea as being in its territory, alarming neighboring countries. Even some of its own agencies don't seem to respect the same boundaries.

“The Sea will remain volatile unless China’s internal coordination problems and the legal confusion surrounding its maritime territorial claims are addressed,” said Robert Templer, Asia Program director for the International Crisis Group, which released a report Monday on the disputed waters.
Although I missed this earlier, China warned the U.S. on Saturday about escalating the situation by conducting previously planned military exercises with the Philippines.
China's military warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have raised risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea in the toughest high-level warning yet after weeks of tensions.

China's official Liberation Army Daily warned that recent jostling with thePhilippines over disputed seas where both countries have sent ships could boil over into outright conflict, and laid much of the blame at Washington's door.

This week American and Filipino troops launched a fortnight of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing andManila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay.

The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines; the leg that takes place in the South China Sea area starts on Monday.
So, in answer to the question posed in the title, I would have to say no, but that instead China seems to be pushing the issue more forcefully toward a military confrontation.

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