On July 12, 2016, the Special Court of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued its ruling on the arbitration case brought by the Philippines against China’s claims in the South China Sea, which will mark its fifth anniversary this year. China, for its part, has “neither recognized nor accepted” the arbitration from the beginning, and has never stopped militarizing a series of islands and reefs in the South China Sea in violation of international law. Some U.S. international law experts say it is China’s own approach that has led to international opposition, turning the South China Sea from a regional issue to a global one.
The British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth strike group will soon pass through the South China Sea; German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer also raised Germany’s concerns about the situation in the South China Sea during a video call with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe on Tuesday (6). Reuters reported that Germany is expected to send a frigate through the South China Sea, which would be the first time in nineteen years that Germany has done so.
Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, and Canada have either conducted joint military exercises against the South China Sea and the free and open Indo-Pacific region, or have sent or will send warships across the South China Sea. In addition to expressing its displeasure and firm opposition over and over again, China never forgets to allude to the United States as the force behind the push for everyone to come to the South China Sea to defend freedom of navigation.
China’s expansionist behavior has united the international community in resistance
Five years ago the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued a ruling condemning China’s actions in the South China Sea, including the construction of artificial islands, and ruling that China’s claims to sovereignty over large areas of the South China Sea had no legal basis. This was seen as a major victory for the Philippines and other countries with sovereignty claims to the South China Sea.
James Kraska, a U.S. authority on international maritime law and chairman of the Stockton Center for International Law at the U.S. Naval War College, said in an interview with Radio Free Asia that five years into the South China Sea arbitration, countries, including China, enjoy freedom of navigation, and he reminded that the South China Sea has turned from a regional to a global concern because China’s own actions have long made it difficult to take concerted action of the international community to unite, and it’s time for Beijing to look in the mirror and see for itself.
“This is a natural reaction to aggressive actions. The reason countries are now working more closely together on the South China Sea issue is because they are afraid of what the Beijing government is doing, and it was difficult to have this kind of cooperation and concerted action 10 or 15 years ago, and it’s this expansionist approach of the Chinese Communist Party that scares countries.” Kraska told reporters.
Xi Jinping’s words don’t match his actions, and China is an international rule-breaker
There is a Chinese idiom that says, “Those who are near are pleased, but those who are far come”. Now the situation in the South China Sea is that “those who are near are not pleased, but those who are far come from afar to be concerned.
Earlier this year, China amended the Marine Police Law to allow the Chinese Marine Police to “fire the first shot” in maritime law enforcement, triggering criticism from many countries; and after the arbitration results in the South China Sea, China has been building islands and reefs, and militarizing actions, not less. In contrast to what Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the White House in 2015 in front of the world’s cameras, Beijing has credit bankruptcy: “China’s relevant construction activities in the Spratly Islands are not aimed at, do not affect any country, and have no intention to engage in militarization.”
The Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a U.S. think tank, has long tracked the dynamics of countries in the South China Sea. According to their satellite photos, China expanded seven artificial islands in one fell swoop in the Spratly Islands in 2016, with airstrips, radars and now presumably missile bunkers on Mischief Reef.
There are also underground facilities under the artificial islands that the camera cannot capture, and China can now deploy military equipment such as warplanes and mobile missile launchers in the Spratly Islands at any time.
Gregory Poling, director of the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative, told the station that despite the international political significance of the arbitration result itself, China, which is determined to compare fists and show off its muscles, has taken a defiant attitude toward the result. This threatens a deeper issue of principle for the countries in the South China Sea, as well as for the Philippines, which proposed the arbitration at the time, and even for the world, by creating an established fact in the South China Sea.
“In addition to China’s refusal to abide by the rules, he is also breaking international rules, and Beijing is making it clear that I am more powerful than my neighbors and I can do whatever I want, which of course makes the international community unacceptable and unhappy.” Polin told reporters.
The Chinese militia fishing boats that began to take shelter on NiuYe Reef in the Spratly Islands at the beginning of this year are still there, Bolin said, adding that in fact, there are about 300 of these Chinese militia fishing boats that have been moving around off the West Philippine Sea, and they have not left at all.
But Bolin said that in addition to the international community continuing to challenge China’s claims, the key remains that China has actually paid little price for this and has used its economic power to influence its neighbors.
Pollin noted, “The Philippines, as a claimant to the South China Sea, is still limited in how far an extraterritorial approach can go if he is unwilling to take the lead.”
In April, the Philippines, including its defense and foreign ministers, made a big move to express their displeasure to the Chinese side over the so-called fishing boats that have been “taking shelter” and staying put, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has taken a clear pro-China stance, saying on the one hand that the Philippines’ sovereignty position “I won’t give an inch even if it kills me,” while pointing out that he does not want to start a dispute with China, that the Philippines owes China a great favor, and that “the South China Sea arbitration is a scrap of paper.” Duterte’s six-year term will expire at the end of June next year.
Former Philippine Justice Antonio Carpio, who has always been at odds with Duterte, said at a seminar on the South China Sea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that there is something the Philippines can do on its own, in addition to the help of the United States.
“We (the Philippines) should start joint patrols with countries including Vietnam in our respective exclusive economic waters. Also, we can invite Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei to conduct regular joint patrols to send a clear message to China that these are our exclusive economic waters. But it takes a lot of political will to do that.” Carpio noted.
Taiwan’s ducks paddle the entire construction of Taiping Island emphasizing humanitarian relief efforts
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands, announced at the time that the three main points of the South China Sea arbitration included: first, China’s so-called “historical rights” and the “nine-dash line “Second, all marine features on the Spratly Islands, including Taiping Island, which is under Taiwan’s control, are reefs and cannot enjoy the right to 200 nautical miles of exclusive economic waters or continental shelf, and third, Filipino fishermen have fishing rights on Huangyan Island.
At the time, Taiwan’s presidential spokesman Huang Chong-an pointed out that “the arbitration, especially the identification of Taiping Island, has seriously undermined the rights of the Republic of China to the islands in the South China Sea and related waters, the Republic of China will never accept, the arbitration is not binding on the Republic of China.”
Taiwan’s Coast Guard this year will also begin to have action in Taiping Island, in addition to the new marine patrol personnel barracks, but also spent NT $1.6 billion to strengthen the Taiping Pier renovation project. The Coast Guard pointed out that Taiwan’s active construction of Taiping Island is to maintain the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and constantly strengthen overseas humanitarian relief energy, hoping to promote peace and stability in the South China Sea on the basis of equal consultation with neighboring countries in the South China Sea.
Kraska said that the fifth anniversary of the arbitration case is still of great significance. In addition to China has less talk about the so-called “nine-dash line” of historical claims, arbitration can strengthen and set norms that all countries should fulfill also has a basis, and recently Japan has been on the issue of Taiwan’s security, expressing the United States and Japan should defend Taiwan’s position, European countries, the United States and Japan, countries with similar ideas more close cooperation, is to send a clear signal to China.
China seeks solidarity with small ASEAN countries
While the U.S. wants to find the team spirit with its European allies, China is reaching out to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The joint statement was made public a day late at the ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Chongqing in June this year, after strong Chinese intervention.
Singapore’s Straits Times quoted sources as saying at the time that the Philippines had asked for stronger wording because of disagreements among ASEAN countries on the South China Sea, but was opposed jointly by “China and some smaller ASEAN countries,” namely Cambodia and Laos.
The foreign ministers’ statement later reaffirmed that the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea is a landmark document that reflects the collective commitment of all parties to promote regional peace, stability, mutual trust and confidence in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It also noted that officials will meet via video to address the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).
The Code of Conduct in the South China Sea has been under negotiation for years, but still only the stairs are ringing. During the negotiations, China has built artificial reefs in the South China Sea with an area of at least 1,800 soccer fields. China is well aware of the complexity of the operation of multilateral institutions and the difficulty of reaching consensus and taking advantage of the benefits, another example in the South China Sea.