Yesterday’s United Nations (UN) Arbitral Tribunal ruling against China’s claims over the South China Sea will do little to resolve the various international disputes over this resource rich and busy trading route. Today, China has already countered the ruling with a detailed defence of their position titled, “China Adheres to the Position of Settling Through Negotiation the Relevant Disputes Between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea”.
This continued ‘we’re-not-listening’ approach from China was to be expected following their absence from the proceedings and refusal to recognise the case throughout. Today’s paper reiterates how China had already previously agreed to settle the dispute with the Philippines consulting “no third party” and believe their sovereign claim to the lands predates all others – referring to their historical map with “nine-dash line”. But the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requires such lands to be “capable of generating an exclusive economic zone” which is why it ruled China’s claims invalid.
But perhaps what is most notable in its absence (alongside China) was any clear affirmative measures to enforce such a ruling while China, the designated trespasser, continues to reclaim land and conduct naval exercise in what has now been explicitly classified as parts of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The whole scenario is a reminder of how the global political and economic influence is shifting to the east and that the west is not the sole voice and power in arbitration; that progress will only be made through negotiation not by each side making their own independent rulings.
China points to how the US themselves has yet to ratify UNCLOS and so carry little authority on enforcing related decisions; as well as its peppered past in adhering to international rulings (cite US vs Nicaragua 1984 and the US withdrawing from the ICJ). But the US has at least been exercising their right to freedom of navigation sending warships through the disputed area. The EU however (remaining true to its usual self) has avoided any real action throughout the dispute offering little more than an acknowledgement of the ruling. In general Europe continues to seem much more keen on building economic ties with China and the area; relying on the US allying to balance power and having faith in China’s insistence that “peace and stability in the South China Sea should be jointly upheld by China and ASEAN Member States”. China still knows it has a lot to offer the rest of the world and will not sell itself short or think of itself as second class. They must at least be at the table for any progress to be made.