Exactly 4 years and three days ago, a tribunal at The Hague delivered a landmark verdict against China. It was against China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. The Tribunal had stated in its verdict that “As between the Philippines and China, there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources, in excess of the rights provided for by the Convention, within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’. The nine-dash line is a vague demarcation line used by China to claim a large part of the South China Sea including Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands, Pratas Islands, Macclesfield Bank, Scarborough Shoal, and more.
Even when the world was expecting it to follow the law, China had made it clear back then that it won’t be part of the proceedings and will not abide by the ruling. Since then numerous incursions have happened in the disputed area where China has repeatedly violated the maritime waters of multiple countries on hundreds of occasions.
Along came the cavalry
It’s belligerence in the area attained a new high in April this year when a Chinese warship aimed its laser gun at a Philippine corvette while in Philippine waters. China’s propaganda mouthpiece Global Times even published an extensive article about how the US Navy’s presence in the South China Sea can be stopped using electromagnetic weaponry.
Just yesterday, it issued a veiled threat to Taiwan in the same online newspaper during the launch of its latest amphibious assault ship. The newspaper stated that “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s first Type 075 amphibious assault ship, which is believed to be built to play a vital role in island seizing operations, is expected to soon make its maiden voyage, as outfitting work is progressing smoothly, at a time when Taiwan island is holding its annual Han Kuang exercises.”
Might doesn’t make right
Globally, China’s maritime bullying hasn’t gone unnoticed. It has created a string of thorns for itself by picking up territorial conflicts in the sea and over land with more than 20 countries in Asia. Michael Pompeo, Secretary of State in the US Government had recently announced that “Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with “might makes right.” Beijing’s approach has been clear for years.”
He further added that “The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law. We stand with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose “might makes right” in the South China Sea or the wider region.” In response China stated that it has had jurisdiction over the disputed area for the last 1000 years.
This is at a time when the entire world is witnessing a rise in anti-China sentiment due to its questionable economic and military tactics. China has for years used its increasing military superiority to bully other countries in its immediate neighbourhood. Even while it has been the aggressor, China has continuously played the victim card and has accused other countries ‘including India’ of trying to violate its sovereignty.
Resource-hungry in perpetuity
In addition to throwing its weight around as a global superpower, China also aims to usurp the vast natural resources in the South China Sea. Experts believe that apart from oil and gas, the most intensively exploited mineral deposits in the South China Sea are near‐shore minerals like titaniferous magnetite, zircon, monazite, tin, gold, and chromite.
It’s ever increasing greed for territory, economic dominance and military superpower status is driving China into a corner in the global community. There are very few countries in Asia that can claim normal relations with China, and this is only worsening as it deploys its military might to get its way. In Asia, the only other power that has stood up to China militarily is India. Over the last 5 years it has made it clear to the world’s second largest economy that military misadventures will now come with real consequences.
For China, this would be the right time to rethink and reinvent its foreign policy altogether. It also has to take the first step towards gaining the trust of the globe and develop long-term relationships that are based on the rule of law and mutual respect.