Tue, Jul 19, 2016 - Page 8 News List

The Liberty Times Editorial: The bully of the South China Sea

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, on Tuesday last week announced its long-awaited ruling in a South China Sea case filed by the Philippines against China.

According to the ruling, China’s “nine-dash line” has no legal basis and Beijing’s island reclamation and fishing activities have violated the Philippines’ sovereignty. The court also said that all 47 islands and reefs that China claims in the South China Sea, including Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島), are “rocks” that at most generate an entitlement to territorial waters that extend 12 nautical miles (22.2km), but not a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone. The ruling was a great victory for the Philippines and a great defeat for China, and while it has no effect on Taiwan’s sovereignty over Itu Aba, it does affect fishing rights.

The most significant part of the ruling was the announcement that the South China Sea is international waters rather than territorial waters belonging to one nation, and that ships of all nations have right of passage.

China is the main reason that this issue has taken on such huge proportions. Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea in recent years has been a cause of great concern for all countries in the region: it has been reclaiming land, turning rocks into at least three artificial islands that are used for military airports, radar installations and ports.

This runs counter to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) promise that China would not militarize the South China Sea. In particular, the “nine-dash line” covers 90 percent of the region, and if China’s plan succeeds, that would restrict neighboring countries’ freedom of sea and air navigation and have a negative impact on regional stability and prosperity. It would even have a major impact on global trade.

According to the ruling, there is no legal basis for the “nine-dash line,” which was a reasonable decision in line with common sense. China has been consistent in its historical claims to sovereignty based on the view that a certain area has been Chinese territory since ancient times.

This does not only apply to the South China Sea, it is taking the same approach with its claims to Taiwan. If this reasoning were to be drawn to its logical conclusion, then the US would still be British territory and it would be a source of chaos for the international community. Experts such as John Tkacik have pointed out that A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World (坤輿萬國全圖), created by Matteo Ricci for the Ming Dynasty’s Wanli Emperor in the early 17th century, does not include the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) as part of the Ming empire.

The cause of China’s defeat was Beijing’s abandonment of late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) policy of keeping a low profile, which has led to open ambition and saber rattling, with Beijing now deciding to ignore the ruling without consulting authorities on diplomatic policy.

The international court’s ruling is likely to set a precedent, and signatories to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea must respect and follow the ruling. This ruling will be followed by questions and criticism from other countries that will challenge China’s tough approach toward its regional neighbors.

Be that as it may, China is the troublemaker and it will also have to take steps to resolve the issue. The way to maintain regional peace and order is for China to respect and implement the ruling and fulfill its responsibilities as a signatory to the convention. It must reign in its horses and stop its militarization of the South China Sea and enter into talks with the other countries in order to resolve the conflict.

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