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Thayer Second Thomas Shoal and the Arbitral Tribunal: What Comes Next?

Thayer Second Thomas Shoal and the Arbitral Tribunal: What Comes Next?

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
Two briefs that focus on the possible inter-relationship between China's response to the Philippines' claim to the Arbitral Tribunal and China's blocking of supply to Second Thomas Shoal.
Two briefs that focus on the possible inter-relationship between China's response to the Philippines' claim to the Arbitral Tribunal and China's blocking of supply to Second Thomas Shoal.

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Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on Apr 02, 2014
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Background Briefing: Second Thomas Shoal: Turning the Tables on China Carlyle A. Thayer March 27, 2014
[client name deleted] Q1. In your assessment how dangerous is the current standoff between China and the Philippines at Second Thomas Shoal? It seems to be the most potentially dangerous tinderbox now in the whole South China Sea. ANSWER: The current impasse at Second Thomas Shoal has the potential to result in a minor physical confrontation or mishap between Chinese Coast Guard ships and Philippine resupply vessels. But it is unlikely to ignite into a shooting match. This is because the Philippines will not use force to resupply the marines at Second Thomas Shoal. When the Philippines responded to the first blockage of resupply by using an airdrop it conceded to China the right to restrict entry to the area. Q2. Although options open to the Philippines are clearly limited, what are the possible remedies to defuse the tensions there? ANSWER: There are no good choices for the Philippines. As long as China keeps up the pressure the Philippines eventually will be forced to withdraw the marines and concede Second Thomas Shoal in the same manner as it conceded Chinese control over Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines is an orphan on this issue. Any action that the Philippines takes to assert its sovereignty over Second Thomas Shoal will be widely viewed in the region as an unnecessary provocation. If the Philippines attempts to send Coast Guard escorts along with a resupply ship China will up the ante. Chinese ships will interpose themselves and prevent resupply. China will also engage in a high volume propaganda campaign charging the Philippines with altering the status quo by attempting to build on Second Thomas Shoal. The following options are open to the Philippines: One, conduct an information campaign directed at regional states and the international community about the situation at Second Thomas Shoal. This is likely to
entrench China’s presence at Second Thomas Shoal.
 Two, attempt resupply by sending escort ships along with the resupply vessel. The
world’s media should be provided the means to cover this effort. If China blocks
resupply, the Philippines should take the matter to the United Nations Security
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123
 
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Council arguing that China’s actions constitute a threat to peace.
 China will veto any resolution not to its liking. Three, organize a massive Filipino flotilla of civilian craft to sail to Second Thomas Shoal to bring supplies and gifts to the beleaguered marines. Provide escorts to monitor this flotilla. Four, consult with the United States in an effort to obtain a public declaration of support similar to U.S. affirmations that Japan has administrative control over the Senkaku islands. Five, issue an invitation to U.S. Marines to join their Philippine counterparts on Second Thomas Shoal for a practical workshop on maritime surveillance. Conduct repeated follow on workshops Q3. Some Philippine officials fear that China might take over or occupy this shoal if the Philippines submits its memorial to the Arbitral Tribunal on or before March 30.
Do you think this is a strong possibility? What are China’s intentions at Second
Thomas Shoal? ANSWER: It is doubtful that China would react to the submission of the Philippines memorial by seizing Second Thomas Shoal. China has only to wait it out until it
exhausts the Philippines’ capacity to resupply the marines.
 The submission of the memorial only begins the arbitral process. The Arbitral Tribunal, once it receives the memorial, will review it to make two determinations. First, does the Philippines have a case in international law. And secondly, does the Tribunal have jurisdiction to hear the case. Any answer in the negative will benefit China by preserving the status quo. If the Arbitral Tribunal decides in the affirmative, the process of reaching a decision on the Philippines claim will take time to resolve. China has plenty of opportunity to pick its moment t make further encroachments. The longer time it takes the tenure of the Aquino (and Obama) administration will run out. China may hope to influence the next Philippine government. Q4. The U.S. has called China's blocking of Philippine supplies to its troops at Second Thomas Shoal
‘provocative.’ What are the stakes for the U.S. in this p
articular stand-off over the Second Thomas Shoal and how do you think the U.S. will handle this dilemma? ANSWER: U.S. credibility is on the line. Already the Obama Administration is being lambasted for not showing leadership on Syria and Russian intervention in the Crimea. At the same time, the U.S. is negotiating enhanced defense engagement with the Philippines in order to increase its rotational presence. What good does an increased U.S. rotational presence serve if it does not deter China? Second Thomas Shoal represents a special case. It has been inhabited by Filipino marines continually since 1999. This is in contrast to the situation at Scarborough Shoal. The U.S. does not want to be drawn into a conflict with China or see it relations with Beijing negatively influenced over Second Thomas Shoal. U.S. inaction will only spur China to step up its pressure on the Philippines. China is seeking to use specific examples, like Second Thomas Shoal, as an object lesson to regional states as it advances its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.
 
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China is mainly motivated to squelch the Philippines and its vocal and legal opposition to Chinese assertiveness lest this inspire other regional states to do the same. Bit by bit China hopes to condition regional states into accepting its hegemony. The U.S. and the Philippines need to work out a counter-strategy to oppose China. The U.S. and the Philippines need to work out an imaginative strategy to resupply Second Thomas Shoal and maintain a permanent Philippine presence there. This strategy should be aimed at turning the tables and presenting China with the choice of escalation or backing down. The failure of the U.S. to provide more than diplomatic support to the Philippines risks undermining U.S. credibility in both Manila and Beijing.
Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “
Second Thomas Shoal: Turning the Tables on China
,”
Thayer Consultancy Background Brief 
, March 27, 2014. All background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key. Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

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