A little disturbance from the other claimant countries, or even an intervention from the U.S. will be considered as an invitation for armed conflict.
But of course, this is not what the US wants, and neither does China. The US would certainly want to play “hero” (again) to the Filipino people. While China would also avoid being the initiator (well, at least not as the world will see it ) of a Southeast Asian War.
China wants the entire Spratlys for itself and will do whatever it thinks it can get away with to achieve its ends. The disputed islands are oil-rich and the South China Sea is strategically important for economic and military purposes. Whether China is "provoked" or not, and whether it takes a year or a hundred, Asia's dragon will try to have its way.
All the talk by the Chinese about settling the issue "amicably" and "avoiding armed conflict" are simply designed to cause the other claimants to the disputed islands to let down their guard. And while they aren’t looking, the Chinese military will continue to plant their markers on the islands and build their structures to solidify their dubious claims.
But of course, the US will not just watch by the sidelines. Oh no, not while its own interests are at stake too. And China knows this. So, the dragon will not strike any of the puny claimants, while the American Eagle is hovering, protecting its turf.
So, while this “dance” is going on, there's little any of the smaller claimants can do. Perhaps learning the Chinese language would be helpful, not in negotiating with the dragon, but in anticipation of its possible rule in the region, replacing the bald eagle.
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