Let SCS be a turning point in ASEAN-China relations

July 16, 2016

PCoA Decision on South China Sea: Let SCS be a turning point in ASEAN-China relations

by Dr.Chandra Muzaffar



The decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCoA) in the Hague on the China- Philippines territorial dispute announced on July 12, 2016 may well emerge as a turning-point in the long-standing wrangles over islands in the South China Sea (SCS).

China expectedly has rejected the decision. It has reaffirmed its claim of territorial sovereignty and maritime rights over almost all of the SCS, particularly the contested Spratly Islands. It argues that its claim is rooted in history. Nonetheless, China has once again reiterated that it is committed to a peaceful resolution of all territorial squabbles pertaining to the SCS that involve, apart from the Philippines, three other ASEAN states, namely, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, and Taiwan.

The new Philippines government has lauded the Arbitration Court’s decision as an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the SCS. Foreign Secretary, Perfecto Yasay, has expressed his government’s determination to “pursue the peaceful resolution and management of disputes with a view to promoting and enhancing peace and stability in the region”. He asserted that the decision upheld international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

This is what is commendable about the Court’s decision. By spelling out clearly that China has violated the Philippines’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by interfering with its petroleum exploration in the zone, by constructing artificial islands and by allowing its fishermen to fish in the zone, the Court has emphasised the significance of upholding the UNCLOS. In an increasingly globalised world where trade among nations, the quest for natural resources and the pursuit of economic activities that transcend boundaries will lead inevitably to inter-state disputes and tensions, a law such as the UNCLOS is indispensable. This is why all governments especially in ASEAN should express publicly their support for a decision that has underlined the significance of international law.

The Court’s decision also repudiates China’s 1947 “nine-dash line” argument that since China has historical records to show that its navigators had explored the islands in the SCS for centuries it could exercise proprietary rights over them. As I had pointed out in an article on May 29, 2012, “for hundreds of years before the 13th century the ancestors of present-day Filipinos, Indonesians and Malaysians, known for their superb maritime skills were in fact the masters of the seas in the entire region, including what is now known as the South China Sea.” The Court rightly reminds the Chinese that “there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources.”

In light of the Court’s decision it would be in China’s own interest to put aside the “nine-dash line “argument and begin negotiations with all the other claimants to the SCS. The new Philippines government under President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed its willingness to talk to the Chinese authorities. The governments of Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are also positively inclined towards negotiations. Negotiations could be bilateral or multilateral. There is perhaps a basis for multilateral discussions since some of the territorial claims are overlapping. Whatever it is, China’s sweeping claim to the whole of the SCS enshrined in its “nine-dash line” theory was a huge barrier to any quest for a just and equitable solution. Now that it has been unambiguously rejected in international law, the Chinese should move ahead and try to re-energise relations with its neighbours on a stronger foundation.

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

What that stronger foundation could be has already been hinted by China itself and some of its neighbours in recent remarks. China and ASEAN as a whole could collectively explore the purportedly huge wealth that the SCS offers. It is established that the SCS has abundant fisheries and could be one of the major sources of protein for the world in the decades to come. It is believed that it also contains vast quantities of oil, gas and other minerals.

Agreements could be forged among ASEAN states and China that would enable them to work together on harnessing this wealth for the good of the millions of people who live in this region.

At the same time, if China and ASEAN are prepared to work together they could also protect the freedom of navigation in one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. The SCS is vital to world trade and will become even more important in the future as global economic power shifts from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

To put it in a nutshell, let the Arbitration Court’s decision in The Hague yesterday set the stage for a new era in China-ASEAN cooperation for a better tomorrow.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).

17 thoughts on “Let SCS be a turning point in ASEAN-China relations

  1. This essay does not seem to be of much relevance to China’s conduct of foreign policy. China is of a big-power mentality. Only the USA matters. Small SE Asian countries are not really worth China’s efforts in cultivating relationship. As privately any Chinese leader what he thinks of Laos or Singapore.

  2. The issue is not merely freedom of navigation and right to airspace. It is one cardinal principle of adherence to territorial integrity. The International Court has ruled by dues process that China has no claim whatsoever to the ocean and airspace territory it has arbitrarily and now unlawfully occupied. As China does not want to play ball with the law that all nations are expected to comply with, than it is the correct thing to do is to isolate China as a deviant pariah state. Expel China from the UN Security Council as a starter. Cease to sell China national assets such as farm lands, energy power source, commodities for industrial growth and so on.
    If it can be done to Iran and other countries why can it not be done to China?

  3. China has historical rights in S. China Sea.

    The award/ruling is illegal, invalid, law-abusing. It is not a ruling by UN but manipulated by US and Japan using Philippines and
    Vietnam as their political tools to contain a rising Chinese power, to serve their interests not ours.

    UN distances itself from Permanent Court of Arbitration, had No role in Philippines case vs China

    PCA clarifies role, double standards in South China Sea arbitration profane international law.

    Note that the appointment of arbitrators was made both from two World War II war criminals’ allied countries, Germany and Japan !!!

    Quoted: “The Philippines appointed German arbitrator Rudiger Wolfrum, and the four other arbitrators were appointed by Japan’s Shunji Yanai, then president of the Hamburg-based International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS):”

    “Yanai’s political leanings rules out the possibility of a fair judgement, as he has helped Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lift the ban on Japan’s collective self-defense right and challenge the post-WWII international order.”

    China will respond decisively if threaten to create chaos and troubles like Middle East and North African countries….

  4. Quote:- “In light of the Court’s decision it would be in China’s own interest to put aside the “nine-dash line “argument and begin negotiations with all the other claimants to the SCS”

    If the present People’s Republic of China is that reasonable, the “Nine Dash Line”, (first drawn in the 1940s), wouldn’t have been resurrected in the first place.

    Now with the Court’s decision, there is an added element of “face” which is as old as the Chinese civilization itself. The new Philipina president understands this and so there is no official gloating. In any case what could the Pinoy government do?, wave the Court’s judgment in China’s face, send in warships and physically evict every Chinese national it finds on those islands?

    Looks like the Chinese strategy of, (if indeed they thought of such), that “possession is nine-tenths of the law” is working because now the worst case scenario for the Chinese is “joint development” which previous to this the Chinese had no such opportunity at all. And also a good chance to wean the Pinoys away from their dependency on the US for GI Jeeps to Coca Cola.

    In a “joint development” scenario, the Chinese can now legitimately exploit those islands legally as being the economically / financially dominant partner has more clout and therefore all the say what with corrupt officials working on the Philipina side? And of course the Chinese will continue to station military assets there, in the name of security of course. And this pattern may well be played out with the other ASEAN countries, (except Taiwan of course), and the more corrupt these countries are the better for China. In any case Malaysia, and possibly Singapore, are already in their pockets.

    Man, looks like everyone has played into the Chinese hands. No wonder the Chinese are called the “Jews of the East”

  5. How do you expel China from the Security Council?

    China has veto power as the other four countries in the SC have. Any such move can be vetoed by China. These international set-ups were apparently created by the few powerful to control the many powerless. The only way to subdue China is for the 4 other nations in the SC – individually or jointly – to wage war against China and win it. It is an unthinkable proposition of course.

  6. Before making further irresponsible and misleading comment, Mr Robert Chelliah should read up the links provided above by Rightway, and read also ,my comments made on the BBC report ,” South China Sea : Philippines and China Awaiting Ruling” dated 12 July 2016,posted in Din’s blog.

    It had been pointed out that the UN had already declared it had NOTHING to do with the Permanent Court of Arbitration, PCA.
    Accordingly. UN had NOT sponsor it.

  7. Rightways response is so similar to how Perkasa and Pekida would respond. Perkasa Cina? 😋

    Looking at the map, Vietnam, Philippines claimed a lot. If Malaysia follows Brunei, Malaysia should probably make a much bigger claim. What happened to Melayu Perkasa? Layu layu, Melayu! Claim so little? First, fight with Philippines which still claim part of Sabah as theirs. Be bold in making as a bold a claim as Vietnam. Then, encourage Brunei to join Malaysia. Lastly, build up a military to fight off Cina Celalka? Muahaha, then South China sea could be known as ” LautMelayu”.

    Melayu terlalu halus? Exactly.
    Rightways … Halus culture exists within Malay culture! To do what Cina Celaka suggests is exactly what Halus Melayu would not want to do. To fight in an identical manner as per how Cina fights, is exactly what most Melayu halus would bantah.

    Actually, before dealing with China, ASEAN nations should first figure out how to deal with the dispute amongst ourselves. But, do it slowly. Set a timetable of 50 years to settle amongst ASEAN nations. It was never resolved even during the days when China was excluded from the table. There is no reason to make such a settlement today. If small ASEAN nations could wait amongst themselves, there is no reason for big China to rush things through. Is the big China really that desperate? If so, learn to conserve, learn to stop polluting for a quick profit. Learn how to grow in a sustainable manner.

    I, as an overseas Chinese, see no reason for current XiDada administration to settle this matter in such a rush matter. It is an irresponsible act for the propaganda of XiDada administration to dictate how the billion of Chinese would think this through this matter for his own benefit. He alone does not represent socialism. Socialism is about cultivating a sharing economy. It could only come about with collective individuals making informed decision for the best of all and individual.

    I say … We neither say yes nor no, but Maybe to allow 3 generations of Asians learning how to think for each other as a collective whole.

    This is the best win-win solution, proposed in a loose-loose ( I.e. not tight-tight) situation.

    Let 3 generations of East Adriana figured this out. Let’s decisively allow this negotiation to take place across 3 generations.

    Pragmatically speaking, Time may not heal, nor might it allow generations to forget. But, it provides room for us to learn how to grow to empathize.

  8. The Hague Court, by convention, is an instrument that is accepted and recognized among civilised nations to abide by its determination, failing which all the past Hague court’s decisions would than become nullified. By the same token Malaysia can now ignore Singapore’s win over the Rocks. Though the Hague court may lack any recognition from the UN, it is still an accepted mechanism to seek arbitration. The determination was made on in accordance with international maritime laws. Simply put lack of UN jurisdiction gives no right to China to unilaterally claim international waterways as it own territory. That is uncivilized behavior .

  9. So , Mr Chelliah, you are saying that all the 193 member countries in the UN are UNCIVILIZED, since UN did not accept or recogniz the determination of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague for Philippines Vs China case over the SCS issues.

    Your comment irresponsibly insulting to the integrity of the member countries of the UN. It is an uncivilized.

    On the case of Malaysia Vs Singapore over “The Rock” , both parties had agreed to participate and mutually agreed and accepted on the appointment of arbitration court,its terms of reference and whatever the verdict or findings the arbitration court might have delivered.- On SCS issues China is not even a participant.

  10. @ Robert Chelliah

    I would like to point out the dispute over Pedra Branca between Malaysia and Singapore was settled using the International Court of Justice (the ICJ), which is the “primary judicial branch” of the UN.

    The ICJ, in its website, has already put out a notice distancing itself from the PCA.

  11. To be fair, we must realize amongst ASEAN members, we have big overlapping conflicting claims over the same sea. We must first be able to resolve conflicts amongst ourselves first, before pointing our fingers in one direction that China is in the wrong. Each of us is wrong. Perhaps, China could even have rightly pointed out that US should not interfere.

    If we have our collective best interest (I.e. ASEAN nations, China, and US) at heart, we ASEAN nations should learn how to resolve our conflicting claims amicably first. Again, given our existing tense situation, it is best to postpone all immediate conflicts to be resolved in a time frame that could allow 3 generations of Asians resolve the issue in an relax level headed informed manner.

    May my God’s wisdom be with all of us

  12. Ha ha katasayang, your question should be addressed to Mr Rightway, the Malaysia de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China.

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