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War talk, it seems, is all the rage in China at the minute. Yes, there are serious people in serious publications seriously advocating war.
At the heart of the issue is what is called Scarborough Shoal by the Philippines and Huangyan Island by China, a little more than 100 miles (160km) from the Philippines and 500 miles from China. The names are a bit misleading because this is a series of rocks, reefs and small islands stretching across an area of about 150sq km (58 sq miles) of the South China Sea, claimed by both the Philippines and China. For a month now, there has been a standoff between Chinese and Philippine fishing and coastguard vessels near the outcrops.
On Tuesday, China's Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying summoned a Philippine diplomat for the third time in this standoff, and delivered a warning, that China has "made all preparations to respond to any escalation of the situation by the Philippine side". For China, sovereignty is one of the key issues it says it will not compromise on, so it is sending strong signals but also boxing itself in.
The odd thing here is that the Philippine navy consists of just one proper ship and that is an ancient US Coast Guard cutter which is hardly a match for China's navy, as this online commentary by "The Comparativist" makes clear. The Comparativist writes: "I think this is happening because the Philippines is so weak. The Chinese government can beat the war drums all they want, and as loud as they want, and no war is going to happen. It's akin to bullying someone in a wheelchair that you know can't punch back."