China’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. The Chinese government will chastise America for prosecuting Chinese spies as being fundamentally racist while they openly promote racism and xenophobia inside their own borders. Perhaps most egregiously, China claims that the natural resources in the arctic belong to the peoples of all the world, however the South China Sea belongs exclusively to China despite there being little legal basis for this claim. Now the Hague has shot down China’s imperial ambitions leading to a world class whine-a-thon from the Chinese government.
For years, the Chinese government has been expanding into the South China Sea not only with aggressive military maneuvers but by actually capturing atolls, reefs, and small islands which they claim as sovereign Chinese territory. From there they begin building military bases, expanding the size of the islands, erecting radar stations, and more.
The reasons behind this are two fold, first is to give China strategic depth. From their point of view the South China Sea is their back yard and the last thing they want is foreign powers cruising right up along their shores. China’s goal is strategic dominance of the region and to set up the South China Sea as a private sector for their own economic exploitation. To this end, they also wish to secure the South China Sea to ensure that China’s growing energy needs are secured for the next 100 years. If these waters were to become disputed, fought over, or a naval blockage established, it would severely degrade if not cripple China.
The Filipino government has been freaked out by China’s territorial expansion. Using ancient sea charts from hundreds of years ago, China has claimed that Spratly Islands are theirs and have occupied the islands with military forces. The Phillippines took their grievances to the international courts at the Hague.
This development was the correct course of action for the Philippines but also represents a problematic one for the international community. China is a revisionist power, one with a culture that has more or less existed for a thousand years. They see their role in world politics as being much bigger, even bigger than that of the United States eventually. In short, China wishes to revise the current global order that has existed since the conclusion of World War Two and the Westphalian system which was established in 1648 by European powers. China feels no obligation to a system of international norms which they had no role in creating.
Using UNCLOS (United National Convention on the Law of the Sea) the Philippines claimed that the West Philippine Sea fell with in their exclusive economic zone. Based on a “9-dash-line” published in a Chinese map in 1947, the People’s Republic claimed that the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and a handful of other terrain features in the South China Sea did, in fact, belong to them. During the UN arbitration hearing on the matter, Chinese officials were not even present, refusing to even recognize the legitimacy of the case and once again demonstrating that China sees itself as above the law.
It should also be noted that the United States has failed to ratify UNCLOS as a international treaty in the legislature, but we should, because contrary to the claims of some right wingers, a treaty like this will strengthen national sovereignty rather than weaken it. The Philippines certainly found that out this week.
On Tuesday, the UN panel issued a statement which read, “The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line.” Furthermore, the UN stated that, “Having found that certain areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, the Tribunal found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by (a) interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, (b) constructing artificial islands and (c) failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.”
Thus far, this is been a much needed rebuke to Chinese aggression in the Pacific. For at least a decade, China has followed a policy of incrementalism, slowly attempting to change commercial and military norms in the South China Sea by slowly expanding outwards and consuming everything in its path. By enacting a slow motion take over, norms change at a snails pace, as not to deliberately provoke military action by the United States, at least until it is too late.
“The ruling was unfair, unwise, and even irresponsible,” Chinese state run television complained. The Chinese government has refused to recognize the UN’s decision. In some ways, China already won this round. By the time the Hague actually responded, the Chinese had already changed international norms and successfully expanded their territorial control. For China, the great game continues. They will take a step back from this particular project at least until the eyes of the international community are oriented in another direction.
In the meantime, they will simply find new methods of playing Wei Qi, a board game of encirclement and counter-encirclement, in the South China Sea.
Featured image courtesy of NPR