MonitorsPublished on Aug 04, 2016
South China Sea Monitor | Volume V; Issue 8
Quick The month of July has been an important one for the South China Sea. Weeks before the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was due to come out on July 12, a volley of opinions erupted regarding the implications of the verdict which was largely understood to go against China’s position. And indeed, the court ruled that China’s territorial claims did not have any legal or historical basis. The court also stated that Beijing had violated the sovereign territorial rights of Manila by constructing artificial islands and subsequently resulting in ecological damage. SCS In recent years, the South China Sea has been fraught with tension as China beefed up its claims over the islands, rocks and shoals of the waters in the region. In addition to territorial claims, Beijing had started construction works on many of the rocks and formations that dot the waters of the South China Sea including the establishment of airstrips and facilities which in future can be equipped to function as military bases. Beijing’s aggressive posturing coupled with its actions have served to fuel the apprehensions of littoral countries in the region. And it was the result of the buildup that in 2013 the Philippines approached the PCA in the Hague in its bid to bring about a legal solution to China’s claims. On its part, China has tried to project that its claims are entirely justified and that the disputed territories are actually part of its own sovereign space. Beijing has also actively tried to lobby other countries in its favour in the months leading up to the verdict. This was probably because Beijing understood that the odds were not on its side. Following the release of the court’s ruling, China’s Supreme Court released a legal statement clarifying its position on the South China Sea issue and warned of action against states which would fail to comply with what it considered its own territory. Asserting that judicial power was an important aspect of sovereignty, the court explained the extent of China’s maritime jurisdiction. But, at the end of the day, China cannot deny or refuse to acknowledge the rules and code of international maritime law. The challenge is that, in today’s Asia, China is economically and militarily more powerful than any other country. But it is also to be remembered that countries like Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and others will not sit back and let China walk all over them. And this is exactly what the Philippines has refused to do. The only exception is Cambodia which has supported China’s position due to its own political reasons. Besides, the US has a strong interest in the Asia-Pacific region and has treaty alliances with many of the countries in the region. Should Chinese actions be deemed as unnecessarily provocative, the possibility of naval engagement cannot be ruled out, although it does not seem likely in the near future. What is most significant, however, is that the ruling of the PCA is the first instance of a legal repudiation of China’s claims at an international level. Beijing knows this and is therefore content with its posturing and declarations for now.

< style="color: #0069a6;">MEDIA WATCH 

< style="color: #163449;">Russia to join China in naval exercise in disputed South China Sea

Russian naval forces plan to join Chinese forces for a joint exercise in the South China Sea to be held in September, highlighting Moscow’s partnership with Beijing after a recent international legal ruling underlined rifts between China and Southeast Asian nations over rival claims across the sea. Source: Reuters

< style="color: #163449;">Show 'utmost respect' for law of seas: India

Identifying maritime cooperation as a key priority, India called for all stakeholders in the South China Sea issue to show "utmost respect" for the UN body that establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans as it sought peaceful resolution of the dispute and appealed to all parties in the matter to avoid any activity that could escalate tensions. Source: NDTV

< style="color: #163449;">US says backs resumption of China-Philippines talks on South China Sea

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday he supported the resumption of talks between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea, following an international court ruling against Beijing over the dispute earlier this month. China did not participate in and has refused to accept the July 12 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in which U.S. ally Manila won an emphatic legal victory. Source: Reuters

< style="color: #163449;">Chinese FM warns Japan against intervention in South China Sea issue

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday urged Japan not to intervene in the South China Sea issue. During talks with Japanese Fumio Kishida on the sidelines of an ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Laos, Wang said Japan, which is not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes, should avoid interfering in and hyping up the maritime spats. Source: Xinhua

< style="color: #163449;">China upset by ‘groundless accusations’ of US Republican Party on South China Sea and Tibet

China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday urged the US Republican Party to stop making “groundless accusations” against Beijing in its party platform, which says China practices cultural genocide in Tibet and has ludicrous claims in the South China Sea. The ministry accused the Republican platform of interfering in China’s internal affairs. Source: South China Morning Post

< style="color: #163449;">Beijing’s South China Sea militarisation becoming fait accompli: Defence paper

Japan will express its wariness over China’s muscle-flexing in the South China Sea in this year’s defense white paper, warning Beijing’s militarisation of the disputed waters is making its territorial claims a fait accompli. The white paper, which the Cabinet is expected to approve early next month, will say China’s activities in the South China Sea could be called high-handed, unilateral action to change the status quo. Source: Japan Times

< style="color: #163449;">KFC, Apple in China hit by South China Sea spat

To the challenges facing KFC and Apple in China, add a surprise backlash from Beijing's spat with the Philippines over the South China Sea. Nationalists are protesting at KFC outlets and calling for a boycott, spurred by government accusations that Washington encouraged Manila to oppose Beijing's claims to vast tracts of ocean. Source: The Economic Times

China ups the ante, to close part of South China Sea for military exercise

China announced on July 18 that it is closing off a part of the South China Sea for military exercises this week, days after an international tribunal ruled against Beijing's claim to ownership of virtually the entire strategic waterway. An area off the east coast of China's island province of Hainan will host military exercises, China's maritime administration said on its website, adding that entrance was "prohibited". Source: The Times of India

< style="color: #163449;">Tribunal rules against China’s South China Sea efforts

China’s prestige as a rising global power suffered a blow as an international tribunal said its efforts to assert control over the South China Sea exceeded the law. Source: Bloomberg

< style="color: #163449;">Japan, Philippines to launch maritime exercise amid South China Sea uncertainty

Japan and the Philippines will conduct a bilateral exercise this week off of Manila Bay just after an international tribunal is expected to announce a much-anticipated verdict on the Philippines’ South China Sea case against China, Philippine officials confirmed on July 11. Source: The Diplomat

< style="color: #0069a6;">RECENT PUBLICATIONS

< style="color: #163449;">Books

Sana Hashmi, China’s Approach towards Territorial Disputes: Lessons and Prospects, Knowledge World Publishers, 2016

< style="color: #163449;">Commentaries

Feng Zhang, The Paradox at the Heart of the South China Sea Ruling, Foreign Affairs, July 28, 2016 Robert Beckhusen, The Philippines' Biggest South China Sea Problem: It Has Almost No Navy, The National Interest, July 27, 2016 Wang Wen and Chen Xiaochen, Who Supports China in the South China Sea and Why, The Diplomat, July 27, 2016 Richard Javad Heydarian, The Day After: Enforcing The Hague Verdict in the South China Sea, Brookings, July 25, 2016 Donald Rothwell, Cause for Optimism in the South China Sea, East Asia Forum, July 25, 2016 Adoracion M. Navarro, The AIIB Offers Hope for the China–Philippines relationship, East Asia Forum, July 20, 2016 Robert C. Beckman, Game Changer in the Maritime Disputes, RSIS, July 18, 2016 Mark E. Rosen, China Has Much to Gain from the South China Sea Ruling, The Diplomat, July 18, 2016 Hannah Beech, China Will Never Respect the U.S. Over the South China Sea. Here’s Why, TIME, July 8, 2016 Steve Mollman, The line on a 70-year-old map that threatens to set off a war in East Asia, Quartz, July 7, 2016 Jesse Johnson, Growing activity in East China Sea shines spotlight on lack of Japan-China communication protocol, The Japan Times, July 7, 2016 Jane Perlez, Ruling on South China Sea Nears in a Case Beijing Has Tried to Ignore, The New York Times, July 6, 2016 Editor: K. Yhome Associate Editor: Pratnashree Basu
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.