Philippine fishing boats are anchored near a foreign cargo vessel facing the South China Sea at the port of Santa Cruz north of Manila. - 

Stacey Vanek Smith:China's government is ratcheting up the rhetoric about its claims to a disputed part of the South China Sea. Both China and the Philippines claim the area, which has massive oil and natural gas reserves.

Our China bureau chief Rob Schmitz has more.

Rob Schmitz: China’s state-run media make it sound like war with the Philippines is inevitable. One headline this week read: "Peace will be a miracle" if tensions continue.

Why the tough posturing?

William McCahill: I have to think that it’s connected with the leadership changeover.

William McCahill is an investment bank executive and formerly a senior U.S. diplomat in China. China changes leaders at the end of the year, and an embarrassing scandal involving one of them is threatening to postpone the transition. McCahill says Beijing may be using a potential conflict with the Philippines as a diversion. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese navy soon conducts military exercises near the disputed territory.

But McCahill worries about the commanders in charge.

McCahill: They lack combat experience, and in a way, are not quite so sensitive to the consequences of their actions.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. won’t take sides. But the U.S. did just triple its military aid to the Philippines this year.

In Shanghai, I’m Rob Schmitz, for Marketplace.

Follow Rob Schmitz at @rob_schmitz