Stumbled across an article on the Diplomat just awhile ago – China’s finally released a position paper on the South China Sea arbitration case with the Philippines (did so last December). I think I’m perceptibly late to this but well better late than never! I’ll type this out to make some sense out of the issue.
The article argues that the UN tribunal shall likely decide that it has jurisdiction over the issue, and also suggests three possible outcomes:
First, the “nine-dash line” will be ruled invalid – then ASEAN claimants might abandon all caution and proceed with maritime drilling. The gist? That they’ll enlist co-op from oil MNCs that China has no jurisdiction over – most hold only limited operations within Chinese borders.
Second, the Philippines’ claims turn out valid and delineated in accordance with UNCLOS. Obviously China proceeds to rejects this, and continues its SCS island building. Same old – more international branding as an irresponsible hegemon, while ASEAN states lean towards the US. Boo, because this spells trouble China’s latest pet project (the Maritime Silk Road thingamagic).
And last: that the actions Chinese fishermen are partaking in are intrusive (near the Scarborough Shoal, catching poor endangered species and whatnot), and a clear violation of international environmental conventions. No way out – this’ll affect the livelihoods of thousands.
I actually think China will be receptive to negotiations – why otherwise would it have halted maritime construction than to reconcile testy relations with ASEAN states? Sure, it’ll definitely begin all over again because Xi’s been chasing this repeating rhythm of aggression then placebo (i.e. incited riots against Vietnam, then backtracked when things got out of hand), but quoting regional stability etc I don’t think China will let regional ties sour to the point of no return. Anyway, realpolitik trumps. China probably doesn’t have interest in ruining economic ties (like how historical animosity with Japan usually takes a backseat in discussing issues of fiscal nature). The SCS claims are based on economic benefit anyway – oil, fisheries etc. Still confused about Aquino’s position though – why does the article say that the Philippines won’t retract its stand, till Aquino’s term ends?
I don’t get how international law works too. China’s intruding actions – aren’t they ridiculous as heck? Here’s an illustration from an external source:
The claims completely borders the coastlines of Vietnam/Brunei/Malaysia etc. China hasn’t clarified what exactly the “nine-dash line” means too. According to international law, countries aren’t allowed to declare special economic zones over uninhabited islands – China obviously ignores tis. I also don’t get the notion of building islands. Does that award a country with additional sovereignty over the surrounding maritime area?
Also: who exactly enforces international law? If China ignores UNCLOS (it already is), who’ll be the one to dispense punitive action? The UN? The UN’s useless here – China’s already ignored the UN tribunal with the Philippines. In this case, the UN fails as a centralised body to determine breaches in international law. Plus, multilateral platforms depend on collective action, like how the 1990 invasion against Kuwait was discussed in the UN to exert joint military action against Iraq. States today have too large a vested interest in the Chinese economy – antagonistic actions simply won’t work. The US? The US hasn’t done anything so far, but only to exert more critical rhetoric against the likes of China.
Won’t this exert caustic effect on the sanctity of international law? Crimea’s annexation also breached international law – nothing happened, only more sanctions. Of what worth is law to govern us, when it carries almost no weight in the eyes of the ruling hegemons?