Sunday, July 26, 2015

• China Doesn’t Like US’ Comments On South China Sea Case Posted By Stephen Paul Brooker

By Stephen Paul Brooker

Recent comments by a senior U.S. State Department official on the arbitration case brought to The Hague by the Philippines provoked a harsh response from China. Earlier this month, the Philippines presented a case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague concerning claims in the disputed South China Sea. 

China though has repeatedly refused to take part in the case and has instead requested that the Philippines withdraw it and allow for bilateral talks. The comments by a U.S. official this week that are supportive of the Philippines have angered Beijing which sees Washington as using its influence to move the case forward to an eventual ruling that will ultimately put China at a disadvantage.

The U.S. Comment

The comments in question were made by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel earlier this week in a speech before the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D. C. He said, “We are not neutral when it comes to adhering to international law. We will come down forcefully when it comes to following the rules.” Furthermore he added that as both Beijing and Manila are signatories to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), legally they have to abide by the tribunal's decision. It is common knowledge that the U.S. is supportive of anyone but China in the South China Sea dispute but such comments have yet to be heard from senior officials in the State Department.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of Senators including the chairmen and ranking members of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a statement supportive of the Philippines. In it they said, “..we applaud Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and his government for his commitment to pursuing this legal course of action. While China is constructing and militarizing new land features in the South China Sea and increasingly turning to coercion to achieve its goals, we are encouraged to see that Manila continues to make every effort to resolve these claims peacefully, consistent with international law, and through international arbitration mechanisms.” They added, “The United States must continue to support our partners and allies, including the Philippines”.

China’s Response
China's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the U.S. was trying to influence a South China Sea arbitration case to favor the Philippines. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said, “Attempting to push forward the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, the US side just acts like an "arbitrator outside the tribunal", designating the direction for the arbitral tribunal established at the request of the Philippines. This is inconsistent with the position the US side claims to uphold on issues concerning the South China Sea disputes. Being not a party concerned to the South China Sea issue, the US side should live up to its pledge of not taking sides and refrain from actions that go against regional peace and stability.”

Beijing does not want to see the U.S. take sides on the South China Sea issue despite it being in a military alliance with the Philippines. Meanwhile in the opinion section of the state-run Global Times, Russel’s comments were criticized as being “absurd”. This assertion was backed by the claim that the tribunal has no dominion over the South China Sea issue. The China Daily in its opinion section commented that the neutrality of the U.S. in the South China Sea only amounts to “lip service”.

The Arbitration Case
On Tuesday July 7th, a five-person panel of judges at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague heard the opening of the Philippines case against China concerning claims in the disputed South China Sea for a week. Citing UNCLOS, the Philippines hoped to convince the tribunal that the court has jurisdiction in the dispute and should intervene. The tribunal should be reaching a decision within th3e next three months if the court has jurisdiction in the dispute.

Repeatedly, China has refused to take part in the case, arguing that the court has no authority to intervene in the dispute and is instead seeking to solve the dispute through bilateral talks. When asked by the tribunal to submit counterarguments, China instead submitted a “position paper” declaring that the court has no jurisdiction over the dispute. China argued that it is entitled to reject arbitration in disputes concerning boundaries, historic titles, or military activity since in 2006 it filed a formal declaration that invoked the opt-out clause of Article 298 of UNCLOS.

China has also argued that by filing this case, the Philippines have violated the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). Signed in 2002 between China and ASEAN members, the DOC is a non-binding declaration that discourages claimant nations from engaging in activities that will heighten tensions in the disputed region.

The tribunal has given China until August 17 to comment on the hearing despite its refusal to take part. China is requested to provide its stance on the issues of jurisdiction in the case. Based on past responses by China, it is doubtful that Beijing will

offer anything but a rebuttal to the hearing, as it already has stated it will not recognize any arbitration by an international court.

The official position of the U.S. regarding the South China Sea dispute is one of neutrality. Truth is, the Philippines are an important U.S. ally and the two countries share a defense treaty. While the official stance of the U.S. is neutral, the same cannot be said of the opinions of government officials. While it can be said that such a stance by officials is not objective, one must look at overall world opinion on the issue. There is little support for China in this case, partly due to its actions and its refusal to take part in the case. China has repeatedly insisted on bilateral talks which the Philippines will not accept. For its part, China’s refusal to engage in the arbitration leads many to question if China is a responsible member of the global community or does its participation only extend to when the chips are stacked in its favor.
Christopher Morris Posted date: July 25, 2015

As the South China Sea situation continues to escalate, so the tensions between the East Asian nation and the United States also expand. The existing conflict in the region continues to intensify, as all of the major players with a stake in the South China Sea continue to make moves in order to emphasize their own particular dominance.

South China Sea flare-up

It is not only the United States and China that have claimed a particular interest in this region. Taiwan and Japan are also intrinsically tied up in the outcome of the current situation, even if the former realistically lacks the financial resources, military might and diplomatic influence to risk a direct confrontation with China.

Of course, China also claims sovereignty of Taiwan itself - refusing to even acknowledge the name of Taiwan as a country - and is therefore extremely unlikely to kowtow to any form of diplomatic pressure from the relatively small East Asian nation. But in truth the South China Sea situation is just the latest in a series of territorial conflicts involving China that indicate the extent to which the superpower is flexing its military, diplomatic and geopolitical muscle.

Unquestionably, China is now a major superpower. While we may still be living on a planet crafted in the image of an Anglo-American world order, the reality is that China has significant influence and power within it. The world's most populous nation has already overtaken the United States as the largest producer of gross domestic product on the planet, at least according to the International Monetary Fund. And this is indicative of a growing financial and political prominence of this nation of over one-billion people in the contemporary economic system.

As China takes an increasingly hawkish position on geopolitical matters, and enters into important allegiances with the likes of Russia, so its position on the world stage is altered radically. While the United States has been the unchallenged superpower on the planet for many years, China is now beginning to develop economically and militarily in such a fashion that suggests it will seriously challenge US hegemony in the coming years.
China territorial disputes
Previous territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have underlined the extent to which China is now creating instability in the eEast Asian region in general. The resentment that has built up as a result of these manoeuvres could now have a serious influence over the South China Sea situation. China views the region as essential to its plans to expand its empire, but other nations are naturally not too enamored with this prospect.

And the current situation has naturally incited the interest of the United States. That US government is certainly not one to stand idly by when it believes that its interests are threatened, and an emboldened and increasingly powerful China is naturally inimical to American interests.

Whether one agrees with the interventionist foreign policy of the United States or not, the current stance of the US government towards China is pretty much inevitable when one considers the geopolitical context. Neither power should necessarily be viewed as good or bad, rather that the existing situation has been coming to a head for some time, and indeed was predicted some decades ago based on a basic demographics and economic data.

US-China relationship
But the question with regard to the South China Sea is whether the United States should saber rattle in China's direction, or whether a less robust and more diplomatic approach would be advisable. Although there are tensions between the United States and the China over the South China Sea region, and the seemingly strong bond between China and Russia is hardly a positive thing for US-China relations, the fact remains that the diplomatic relationship between the two nations is not too sour. The US and China have managed to recently collaborate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and although there is definitely potential for this to go awry in the future, it does indicate that the two nations are capable of behaving harmoniously.

There are also intrinsic links between the United States and China economically. Trade between the two nations is almost inevitable, considering that they are the largest economies on the planet by some distance. And major corporations such as Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) choose to locate their production facilities in China, and thus there is now an almost symbiotic relationship between the United States and China in this regard.

This symbiosis also carries into the debt-based relationship between the two nations. China is the largest holder of US debt on the planet, and this further incentivizes the two nations to reach diplomatic solutions in any areas of conflict.

And there is also a history of cooperation between the United States and China at military level. This is perhaps not something that the average person would associate with the United States, as it is generally presumed that the most powerful nation on the planet has something of a frosty military relationship with China.

IMAGE: U.S. Pacific Command, Flickr

But despite this perception, China has participated in the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC 2014, which is hosted biannually by the U.S. Pacific Command. RIMPAC 2014 consisted of a series of drills that enabled the world's most populous nation to learn directly from what is undoubtedly its greatest military power. With the Chinese military able to learn a huge amount about US tactics, techniques and procedures, it seems that the United States government is not hellbent on keeping its military capabilities secret from this new theaterwide threat to its dominance.
South China Sea rhetoric
However, despite the apparent cooperation between China and the United States, the US government has still engaged in confrontation in the South China Sea, both rhetorically and physically. It may seem illogical for the US to be training Chinese forces in the American way of waging war, while at the same time the two nations continue to drift alarmingly closer to armed confrontation. Such are the vagaries of foreign policy in this often upside-down world.

In reality, a closer collaboration between the United States and China would be beneficial to both nations, and the US should desist from aggressive public rhetoric against the East Asian nation. Any aggressive military action against China would be counter-productive and short-sighted, and ultimately achieve nothing in a world in which the two nations will remain intrinsically linked for the foreseeable future.