International Tribunal Rejects Chinese Claim On South China Sea, What Next?


The unanimous award of Hague International Tribunal on the South China Sea arbitration is historical, overpowering and decisive in the sense that Chinese claim on the disputed sea area has been rejected by the International Tribunal while giving decision on the petition filed by The Republic of the Philippines against The People Republic of China. As was expected the Chinese reaction was full of negativities, rejecting the decision and calling it as null and void.

The decision has established that the area, which has become a bone of contention particularly after the start of the last decade between the US and China, and China- the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei, is a free sea area with no exclusive control of China. The decision may bring some solace to adjoining small states of South China Sea.

The sea area as the verdict states was used by Chinese people as fishermen and other way but to say that the area was exclusively belonged to China was not historically correct, thus the ‘historical control’ argument did not find any merit with the tribunal.

This is a decisive verdict in the sense that now the geopolitics of the region and the adjoining countries will take a change. There is possibility that conflict may conflagrate as China known for its illogical behavior on several issues including suppression of the people, violation of human rights, unfair political dealings with the people of Hong Kong, suppression of the religious freedom etc. will not accept it even for a while and similar message has come. Its Xinhua official news agency has stated that “ it neither accepts nor recognizes the award of an arbitral tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration established at the request of the Philippines. ‘The award is null and void and has no binding force,’ the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement. China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards. China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards, according to the statement.” Moreover Chinese government has issued the statement saying that “China’s Nanhai Zhudao (the South China Sea Islands) consist of Dongsha Qundao (the Dongsha Islands), Xisha Qundao (the Xisha Islands), Zhongsha Qundao (the Zhongsha Islands) and Nansha Qundao (the Nansha Islands). The activities of the Chinese people in the South China Sea date back to over 2,000 years ago. China is the first to have discovered, named, and explored and exploited Nanhai Zhudao and relevant waters, and the first to have exercised sovereignty and jurisdiction over them continuously, peacefully and effectively, thus establishing territorial sovereignty and relevant rights and interests in the South China Sea.” These statements show that China has completely rejected the verdict.

In fact China had projected the issue of South China Sea as the symbol of its national power. It was an attempt to contain the smaller states in the region and to exploit the huge natural resources of the sea. It even threatened big powers. It did not spare even the USA and India on the issue but it was well known that legally Chinese claim on this sea area was incorrect and based on flimsy and weak grounds. The verdict has proved it.

The another outcome will be that the tension in the region will spike due to Chinese role as well the more penetrating behavior of USA.USA will now redraw its policies for the region where it has formulated a policy of collaborating the likeminded countries against China which include mainly Japan, South Korea; India is also being approached though independent foreign policy stand of India if survives as it has been in the past then India will be able to remain away from the collaborative group otherwise US may make use of it.

Thus there are now two clear groups which will stay opposed to each other. The smaller sates will have to deal China at their individual level if they come closer to USA then problem of another sort may take place. The region may turn up as a theatre of lethal conflict.

China also needs to learn that there is no need to show the bullying in the International Politics; moreover it should not behave unethically and as a power of suppression. Its global behavior is well known. It has been responsible to allow North Korea and Pakistan to proliferate the nuclear technology. Its activities are highly suppressive in the sense that common people in the country are not in a position to enjoy the basic liberties. The fundamental human rights are nonexistent in the country. The political dictatorship in the name of perverted communist ideology does not hold water when the common people are at loss in any respect.

The decision on South China Sea with this perspective is landmark because it limits the power aspiration of China. It also shows that global politics in which the impact of international law is of least value as the nation states are not compelled to follow the laws; but after the verdict at least the basic rights of the smaller states in the power politics governed international order have been recognized.

It is expected that new power configurations will appear and new form of behaviour of nation states will come into fore. Big to small powers will use the verdict according to their national interests.

Hence the decision has several aspects which will unfold in the time to come but one point is explicit that China is involved in putting illegal pressure on the world community on South China Sea. This fact has much bearing on the International Politics. As after the terrorism, it is the big power politics and rivalry which threaten the global peace; for which these nation states need to be controlled. International law may do something though its control system is quite weak; but a start even at primary level is need of the hour. China should learn to respect the International laws and related verdicts.

Dr. Vivek Kumar Srivastava is Vice Chairman CSSP, Consultant CRIEPS, e [email protected]

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