Mohamad Radytio – Indonesia
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Tribunal of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague has decided to back the Philippines on its territorial disputes with People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea (SCS). The SCS is an extremely strategic territory; it is worth $ 4.5 Trillion maritime trade cargo ships pass through the sea, not including potential oil and gas reserves, and the priceless militarily strategic islands and rocks in the disputed sea.
The permanent tribunal of arbitration is an arbitral tribunal comprised of experienced Judges from various countries with clear arguments on deciding the cases to resolve disputes between member states. In the SCS dispute, among their prominent findings, the main thing is that any historic rights to the nine-dash line that Peoples Republic of China (PRC) claimed as its own were rejected because these rights and their claimant’s arguments were not supported with the maritime zones set out under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in which PRC is a signatory country.
PRC, of course, refused to accept the PCA ruling. One of their stated reasons is a ‘precedent’ from the USA where they neither ratified nor signed the UNCLOS convention. For the reason that the USA did not obey the Tribunal’s decision, then PRC essentially feels like another superpower and thinks that it is also entitled to the same ‘courtesy’. However, again, while USA did not sign UNCLOS convention, PRC does. Also, even though USA did not sign the convention, it generally obeyed the convention’s terms on formulating its own maritime policies and claims in its backyard.
Chinese also cite other precedence of USA’s shrugs about its exclusive economic zones in the Pacific Ocean. Even though the USA is yet to implement the decision, they hadwelcomed it as a judgment from an international legal institution. If PRC want to seriously cite USA as a precedent, they should also bear that in mind.
The Chinese officials blamed that the tribunal’s decision not only enormously hurt their national interest, they also blamed that tribunal’s decision was influenced by the money. The term ‘national interest’ here is rather vague, because if it is based on historical perspective, neither Ming nor Qing dynasty ever exert direct official control over most of the South China Sea, and from security & economic perspective four other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries also have similar interests in that Sea and with relatively stronger historical backing. PRC’s interests, at least in theory, have no more weight than these four ASEAN countries’ interests. The ‘bribery’ argument is also doubtful, unless PRC manages to provide and bring the proofs into other legal authority. It is unclear how they would do that. Although it was also reported by some media outlets that the American intelligence agencies paid the fees for Philippine’s long and costly legal battle in the PCA.
It is quite clear that PRC has a strong determination to further its claims regarding the disputed Sea no matter what the legal perspective says. Their assurance of “maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea” only mean they would avoid escalating the conflict, maintaining their status quo (claims). But, judging from many projects (lighthouses, reclamations) in the Sea they currently undertake, that assurance must be taken by ASEAN parties of the conflict (Vietnam, Philippine, Malaysia and Indonesia) with pinch of salt.
Furthermore, ASEAN countries must unite in facing PRC. While there is a little possibility they will be able to achieve agreements through bilateral negotiations, judging from PRC’s aggressive attitude in the SCS dispute. These four countries must overcome their own differences through separate bilateral negotiations are similar like four kids took a line waiting to be ‘knocked-down’ by the bully. No, they must face the bully together. They must overcome their own territorial disputes first, either through intra-ASEAN negotiations or go to the international Tribunal again to get another verdict, and then they must also agree to accept the result and create a joint front against the PRC.
It is apparently clear that China’s approach to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Permanent Tribunal of Arbitration and the South China Sea case is completely against the international norms principles.
It won’t be easy for the ASEAN countries to unite and settle the differences with the second largest economy in the world. Their economic relations with PRC, which has invested a huge sum of money in the ASEAN, can also be a major headache for the leaders of these four countries. In 2015, ASEAN became China’s third largest trading partner. According to Chinese statistics, in 2015, bilateral trade between China and the Philippines grew by 2.7% and hit a new record of $45.65 billion. Suffice it to say here that People’s Republic of China has already made its decision; and now it is ASEAN’S turn.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 28 Temmuz 2016, 12:16