Waiting for calm in the South China Sea

13.07.2016 - Tony Henderson

Waiting for calm in the South China Sea
(Image by Council of Foreign Relations)

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague was the international organisation issuing the ruling concerned sovereignty and land usage, as well as maritime rights and jurisdiction issues, that hold over the South China Sea. Its foretold conclusions unleashing a readied barrage of ‘not on my watch’ statements by China’s Xi Jinping.

The case was brought to this prestigious court by the government of the Philippines, tweaking the nose of big brother China. The court indeed made explicit references to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, and dismissed China’s territorial and sovereignty claims across the South China Sea as lacking in modern legal foundation; telling that its island revamp-renovations and beyond that were unsupportable under international law; and insisted that China’s the ocean in-filling and construction to be in breach of the convention’s environmental aims.

As a signatory to the Law of the Sea treaty China is under obligation to show respect and co-operation for the law’s so set out but besides wanting to claim extensive historical rights China is showing that it does not trust the laws that undoubtedly are cleverly used to fulfill functions removed from their direct intent. For example, the USA far from its own shores skirting South China Sea islands besides those off Japan-Korean Peninsular-Taiwan showing its military capabilities.

The US Senate never ratified the Law of the Sea treaty and so, unlike China and more than 150 international-law-abiding nations, technically the USA is not even a member of this convention that it is insisting China must honour.

Given the passage of time and especially with President Duterte in charge of the Philippines with his more open view on that country’s China stance – which in itself is conciliatory – the Chinese may well relent on certain criteria it is presently pushing and see ways to relax tensions between itself and its seafaring neighbours in deference to the spirit if not the specifics of the law.

We will have to wait for calmer waters though for that to happen.

Categories: Asia, International issues
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