The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, on July 12 ruled in favor of the Philippines in a maritime dispute with China, concluding that China’s claims of historical rights over the bulk of the South China Sea were invalid.
So far commentaries have largely put emphasis on military, strategic and economic concerns. In fact, this arbitration award is not just an issue of geopolitics and sovereignty, but about the sustainability and wellbeing of our international commons.
The South China Sea is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet — home to nearly 76 percent of the world’s coral species and 37 percent of the world’s reef fish. After consulting numerous experts and examining satellite imagery, the arbitral tribunal found that China’s recent large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) had caused grave harm to the coral reef environment and fragile ecosystems.
In addition, the final ruling clearly said that Chinese authorities were “fully aware of” and “actively tolerated” Chinese fishermen using propellers to harvest endangered giant clams — a method that damages marine life. These activities violate China’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
University of Miami, Florida, marine biology professor John McManus has called upon China and other nations in the region to end their conflicting views over territory and declare the South China Sea a special protection zone, like the Antarctic Specially Protected Area.
This proposal is morally appreciated and theoretically possible under international law, but it might face practical difficulties in this case. In particular, the disputed area is strategically important for military forces, the transport of international trade and hydrocarbon drilling.
However, we should not overlook the role of environmental peace-building in post-conflict settings. More specifically, internationalized management of natural resources can provide a useful opportunity to build trust between nations. International environmental law could mainstream sustainable considerations into the post-conflict activities of nations and international organizations.
Successful examples include environmental cooperation on water resources as specifically addressed in Annex IV of the October 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan. Peru and Ecuador jointly created and manage “peace parks” — ecological protection zones in the Cordillera del Condor, Ecuador — as part of efforts to end long-standing border disputes.
At the multinational level, the World Bank has established a Post-Conflict Fund to finance projects with environmental sustainability elements, such as the 2012 recovery plan of Mindanao in the Philippines. Furthermore, since 1999, the UN Environment Program’s Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch has managed several post-crisis environmental assessments in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Congo, Syria and the Balkans. These types of environmental assessments are sometimes explicitly featured in international litigation documents.
Overall, these efforts suggest that environmental considerations are continuously affecting peacemaking activities worldwide. Today, although Beijing has not addressed any environmental issue in its public statements, a multilateral action plan for South China Sea regional assessment and ecological restoration should be included in the post-arbitration negotiation agenda. Ultimately, international lawyers might not only defend the political interests of their nations, but also the beauty of our environment.
Yang Chung-han is a doctoral candidate researching international environmental law at the University of Cambridge and a member of the Taipei Bar Association.
Ideas matter. They especially matter in world affairs. And in communist countries, it is communist ideas, not supreme leaders’ personality traits, that matter most. That is the reality in the People’s Republic of China. All Chinese communist leaders — from Mao Zedong (毛澤東) through Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), from Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) through to Xi Jinping (習近平) — have always held two key ideas to be sacred and self-evident: first, that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is infallible, and second, that the Marxist-Leninist socialist system of governance is superior to every alternative. The ideological consistency by all CCP leaders,
The US on Friday hosted the second Global COVID-19 Summit, with at least 98 countries, including Taiwan, and regional alliances such as the G7, the G20, the African Union and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) attending. Washington is also leading a proposal to revise one of the most important documents in global health security — the International Health Regulations (IHR) — which are to be discussed during the 75th World Health Assembly (WHA) that starts on Sunday. These two actions highlight the US’ strategic move to dominate the global health agenda and return to the core of governance, with the WHA
Just as the cause of the Kursk submarine disaster remains shrouded in mystery — the nuclear-powered Russian submarine suffered an explosion during a naval exercise on Aug. 12, 2000, and sank, killing all 118 crew onboard — it is unlikely that we will ever get to the bottom of the sequence of events last month that led to the sinking of the Moskva guided missile cruiser, the flagship of the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet. Ukraine claims it struck the vessel with two missiles, while Russia says ammunition onboard the ship exploded and the ship tipped over while being towed
The war in Ukraine continues, and lines are slowly being drawn in the sand. Nations have begun imposing sanctions; few can ignore the reality of Russia’s aggression and atrocities, especially as it edges to the possibility of making a full declaration of war. For Taiwan, this resurrects a different reality, the tangled web of its own complex past and how as a colony of Japan, it became involved with Russia, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Some role reversals are immediately evident. Taiwan is now an independent nation and the CCP rules China. The CCP indirectly