The Chinese audacity is also encouraged by lack of any effective opposition from ASEAN and the attitude of the Philippines after the new government under Duterte decided not to press China despite the favourable ruling of Permanent Court of Arbitration. The world in fact looked with dismay over the U turn of the Philippines after the ruling came against the Chinese claims. The fact is that the Chinese sweeteners have won over some members of the ASEAN. The Philippines under Duterte feels that there is no point in discussing the Chinese maritime activities as none can pressurise China. The Philippines has adopted the policy of appeasement towards China and is happy with whatever China is doling out. China is using its economic power to ensure support to its approach by the members of ASEAN. Since the last year ASEAN is producing softer and softer statements ignoring the fact that such an approach is going to embolden China to accelerate its activities in the South China Sea.
Another factor that has helped China in continuing with its plan to enhance its presence is that the US under Trump has shifted its focus to America and is not showing the same concern about the South China Sea as was displayed by his predecessor. The North Korea issue has also forced US to temporarily seek cooperation from China. The situation may change once US is able to focus on the South China Sea, which remains strategically significant to US.
China’s intolerance against the International Community’s saner advice to stop militarisation of the region has increased as is reflected in a number of Chinese reactions. The recent Chinese reaction to the G7 Summit statement proves this point. The G-7 Summit held in Taormina, Italy, ended with a joint communique on 17th June 2017, saying that the members are committed to “maintaining a rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law”. The statement expressed concerns about the situation in the East China Sea and South China Sea. China on next day strongly denounced the Group of Seven (G7) Summit, accusing it of interfering in the East China Sea and South China Sea disputes in the “guise of international law”. Such statements were seen earlier as well whenever such advice was tendered to China.
The Chinese aggressiveness if not checked, would result in a position when China would have virtual control over the South China Sea and other disputants would be in disadvantageous position to get anything from China. The ultimate Chinese objective is to establish its hegemony over the region. The situation demands that the members of ASEAN unitedly take a harder position as was reflected in their resolutions prior to July 2016. Outside powers can only then provide the necessary support but they on their own can do little to get the justice to the smaller countries who are disputing the Chinese claims. ASEAN must see through the game plan of China and act jointly and coherently to take a bold posture against illegal and audacious activities of China. They must understand that divisions among them would bring serious harm to them in the long run. The soft line taken by ASEAN is only helping China.