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China’s sovereignty claims disregard international law

Posted Nov 04 2011 1:01am
email Chinas sovereignty claims disregard international law
My last column in this space on China’s sovereignty claim over more than 80 percent of the South China Sea shown in China’s “nine-dash line u-shaped” map presented to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf in 2009 also gave a glimpse at an emerging arms race in the South China Sea.

While China’s own white paper, “China’s Peaceful Development,” assures China “does not pose a military threat to any other country.” And Beijing declared, “There is no question about the freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea.” China’s assertion to its “indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters,” backed by her naval modernization and maritime activities, increase anxiety in the region.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan all claimants to the disputed South China Sea Islands have upgraded their naval forces while looking for support from the United States. Japan and Australia also are readjusting their defense postures.

It wasn’t helpful that the September English language Global Times, owned by the People’s Daily, the China Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, published Chinese analyst Long Tao’s “Time to teach those around South China Sea a lesson,” calling the Spratly and Paracel Islands “an ideal place” to “punish … the Philippines and Vietnam, who have been acting extremely aggressive these days” and “who infringe upon our sovereignty to steal our oil.”

Time.com’s Kirk Spitzer, who cited specialists on China’s military capabilities in his Sept. 15 “Japan Worries About China Later,” reminded, “for all its bellicosity, it will be a decade at least before China could pose a credible military threat to Japan or U.S. forces in the region.”

Yet last year, the People’s Liberation Army’s first joint maneuver of its three regional fleets in the South China Sea and more frequent patrols there by its ships have caused countries in the region to be wary of their large neighbor. Long Tao’s assertion that “more than 1,000 oil and gas wells,” in the South China Sea “will be burned to the ground” in any dispute over Chinese sovereignty has only added to fear and anxiety.

On Oct. 25, “countries currently in sea disputes with China” that “If these countries don’t want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of cannons. We need to be ready for that, as it may be the only way for the disputes in the sea to be resolved.”

“South China Sea Conflict? No Way,” is the title of an article in The Diplomat by Rukmani Gupta, a fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. Reason? “China has too much to lose by escalating territorial disputes.”

Meanwhile Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Time’s Richard Stengel in an interview that “it’s no classified secret that China is increasing its military assets. … China began to show some muscle, … motivated by their assessment … (that) we couldn’t really be as involved as we once had been. (The) future, I think, demands us to be.”

Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta affirmed, “We are a Pacific nation. We will not only remain a Pacific power, but we will strengthen our presence in this area. … We are here to stay, and that’s an important message to send to the region and to send to all our allies.”

China’s defense ministry was quick to declare: “Maintaining peace and stability of the South China Sea is not only in the interest of China but also in line with the interest of other countries involved. It needs joint efforts to keep the peace and stability in the area.”

Foreign affairs analyst Richard Heydarian described, in “The South China Sea Conundrum Analysis,” China’s “sophisticated bi-multilateral approach” in foreign policy: “China tends to use multilateralism as a component of its charm-offensive strategy, but it simultaneously utilizes bilateral ties in order to reinforce, if not impose, its interests.”

In a paper to a conference on major policy issues in the South China Sea, professor Carlyle Thayer spoke of an “international backlash” created by China’s assertive sovereignty claims in 2009 and 2010.

Thayer referenced meetings of the ASEAN-China Joint Working Group in December 2010 and April 2011 as when it became clear that progress to a solution to the sea disputes was blocked by China’s insistence that territorial and sovereignty claims could only be settled by the states concerned, while ASEAN member-states prefer a multilateral approach.

Back to Secretary Clinton’s interview: “There was a lot of activity in the South China Sea, about China asserting itself, China moving to block oil exploration to countries, and more along that line. So I felt strongly that we had to say freedom of navigation is an international right. There are methods for resolving disputed claims over territories. … We’re going to strongly assert the rule of law and a rules-based approach to solving these issues.”

We’re back to China’s “indisputable sovereignty” claims vs. international law and principles prescribed in 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. A miscalculation can be dangerous for all.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam. 

Via Guam PDN:China sovereignty vs. international law

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