Singapore must remain neutral in South China Sea row

While the legality of China's claims in the South China Sea is not weak, they are not indisputable to the point of rendering other claimants' stakes bogus.

In fact, if the international tribunal at The Hague rules against China in the case brought by the Philippines, it opens up yet another Pandora's box ("China rallies support from small nations"; Sunday).

First, it will bolster similar claims by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei in this dispute, and further support their legitimacy.

Second, it will reaffirm the principled stand emphasising the right of freedom of navigation and overflight.

These all suggest that China's claim is not so strong after all.

So, what will the impact of all these developments be on countries in the region?

China has already said it does not recognise the jurisdiction of The Hague tribunal and will not abide by an unfavourable ruling.

It will be further isolated, and an isolated China will be an unpredictable China. It will likely expedite and fortify the militarisation of reefs already under its control.

Inevitably, this will escalate tension further between China and the United States, which has always championed the right of freedom of navigation and overflight.

Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines will lean even closer to the US.

It is simply untenable for Singapore to cosy up to the two giants.

We choose to be friends with both superpowers for our national interests and safety. But for these reasons, Singapore must remain neutral in this case.

Douglas Chua Hock Lye

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore must remain neutral in South China Sea row'. Print Edition | Subscribe