In the Asia-Pacific, China Plays Nice Because It Can

Nov 26, 2016 | 14:00 GMT
In the Asia-Pacific, China Plays Nice Because It Can
A fishing crew embarks for the Scarborough Shoal, a necklace of reefs and rocks in the South China Sea that is the center of a long-running territorial dispute between China and the Philippines.
(TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

The contested waters of the South China Sea are a geopolitical flashpoint, but for now they exist in a period of comparative calm. Following a July ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, countries with territorial claims in the waters struck a conciliatory tone, most prominently over the Scarborough Shoal -- a barely submerged coral atoll that has become a touchstone for affairs between China and the Philippines, traditional adversaries in the South China Sea. A normally recalcitrant Beijing, forced to accept a more delicate and complex maritime arrangement in the region, is making placating gestures at last. The shoal is emblematic of deeper issues at stake, namely the nature of maritime boundaries and bilateral concerns over fishing rights and exploitation of strategic territory. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made a high-profile visit to China in October and, following a strategic recalibration on both sides, Beijing and Manila appeared to be moving...

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