UN Rules Against China In South China Sea Dispute
The UN Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled against China, saying it has “no historic title” in the South China Sea. For the last two years, China has claimed that ancient maps prove its legal right over almost the entire South China Sea and have taken aggressive action against the Philippines in order to protect the disputed territory.
China dismissed the ruling as a farce and vowed to protect is claims.
“China will take all necessary measures to protect its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said, according to Reuters.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement in response to the ruling in which it “solemnly” declared the award “null and void” and asserted it “has no binding force.”
“China neither accepts nor recognizes it,” said the statement.
The Philippines charged that China’s actions constituted a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both nations have signed. The court also ruled that China had violated the Philippines’ rights by interfering with that country’s fishing and oil exploration in the area.
Of more concern for the international community were the remarks of China’s ambassador to the UN, Cui Tiankai, who said the ruling will “undermine and weaken the motivation of states to engage in negotiations and consultations” to resolve conflicts, and instead will “intensify conflict and even confrontation.”
After the ruling, China announced its intention to set up an “air defence identification zone”, which could force Australia to confront one of its largest trading partners.
How China will respond in the coming weeks and months is unclear, but they do face a delicate choice between aggression or resignation.
“Domestically, Beijing has painted itself into a corner and may find itself compelled to act in a potentially reckless fashion, if only to demonstrate to its domestic audience that it is not, to use a Cold War term, an ‘empty cannon’ in the eyes of its own citizens,” Andrew Mertha, a Cornell University specialist in Chinese politics told The Washington Post.
In an op-ed on the pages of the same paper, Paul Gewirtz, a professor of constitutional law and the director of the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, contends that either way the ruling was not going to resolve the longstanding conflict. Instead, he writes, negotiation is what is needed now.
The decision “underscores the limits of law in resolving these disputes in practice, as well as the urgent need to move ahead with negotiations, supported by prudent power politics,” argues Gewirtz.