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Foreign Policy

Phantom of Hegemony Behind Arbitration

Jul 20 , 2016
  • Yin Chengde

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for International Studies

In disregard of China’s strong opposition and explicit stipulations in the UNCLOS, the arbitral tribunal in The Hague released a ruling for the Philippine-initiated arbitration against China, which was overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines, denying China’s nine-dash line, seriously undermining Chinese territorial sovereignty as well as maritime rights and interests, creating a pathetic precedent of an international tribunal disregarding international law in the process of law-enforcement and leaving an extremely ugly stigma in the history of international law.

The ruling was an outcome of collusion between Manila and the provisional arbitral tribunal. In order to usurp China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and surrounding waters, and legalize its theft of Chinese islands and reefs, the Philippines did not hesitate to violate international law, to infringe on legitimate Chinese rights, to eat its own words, even to lie in initiating the arbitration. Of the five members of the arbitral panel, four were from Western countries, except one recommended by the Philippines. All the rest were designated by the former president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, Shunji Yanai, who is a Japanese ultra-rightist, one of Shinzo Abe’s cronies and advisors. The panel he has manipulated has acted in collusion, ignored the nature of the case as one of territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation over which it has no jurisdiction, maliciously dodged the exclusive statement China had made a decade ago, denied the consensus China and the Philippines reached on resolving disputes through bilateral consultations, violated stipulations and the intent of the UNCLOS, arbitrarily proceeded with the arbitration and announced a ruling. The verdict it has given by unwarrantedly usurping, expanding and abusing power actually has nothing to do with the law, it is a political action meant to suppress China, which is immoral, illicit, and invalid. China’s position of not participating, not accepting, and not implementing is legitimate, reasonable, and justified, and consistent with corresponding international conventions and practice.

Looking at the entire process, one can easily see a dark shadow of hegemony – that of the United States, which has been seeking hegemony in the name of “safeguarding the law”. To put it bluntly, it is the US that has directed this political farce under the pretext of law.

Thousands of miles away from the South China Sea, the US has nothing to do with disputes in the region. However, it has gotten deeply involved as if it were a “main character”, taking the South China Sea as the strategic focus of its “rebalancing” to the Asia-Pacific and main battlefield of its strategy of containing China; it has unprecedentedly consolidated its military deployment and activities in the West Pacific and South China Sea. Seeing that muscle-flexing and military provocations against China have turned out to be less than effective, it has launched the “lawfare” offensive. That was the macro background of the South China Sea arbitration. In June 2012, US Senator Joseph Lieberman openly proposed to intervene in the South China Sea issue via such multilateral frameworks as international arbitration. Instigated and encouraged by the US, the Philippines initiated the arbitration in January 2013. Shortly afterward, the US began to admonish China to accept outcome of the arbitration, or “pay a price”. Which indicated it knew what the outcome would be. In fact, such an outcome had been pre-determined by the US, the arbitral tribunal was only fulfilling an American goal. The arbitration featured collusion among the US, the Philippines, and the arbitral panel, with the US as the mastermind and director, the Philippines as the point man, and the panel as a judicial instrument of the US strategy to contain China. The US has three goals in directing the arbitration: One is to denigrate China, vilify it as violating international law, tarnish its moral image, isolate China politically and creating excuses for its “China threat” theory; the second is to create a “butterfly effect”, enticing other countries to follow suit, so as to fundamentally deny China’s longstanding sovereignty over the South China Sea islands in international law; the third is to create a legal basis for its further political and military intervention in the South China Sea, in order to develop a strategic containment of China.

But the US’ wishful thinking is destined to come to naught. China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea and adjacent waters is a reasonable, legitimate historical fact that can’t be denied by any party, any means. It is utterly groundless to accuse China of violating international law. As a global hegemon, the US is the foremost violator of international law. Itself refusing to join the UNCLOS, the US is accusing the always law-obeying China of breaking international law. This will only end up exposing its own weakness, and make itself an international laughing stock.

The arbitration, which the US has directed from behind the scenes and openly supported, is a piece of waste paper to China. But it has added uncertainties to the South China Sea issue, and exerted serious negative impacts on China-US relations, the US has thus earned the infamy as a troublemaker. This is an arbitration of no winner. Facts have shown that adhering to the China-ASEAN proposal to work for negotiated outcomes through one-on-one consultation between parties directly involved is the only correct approach to the South China Sea disputes. The US should honor its previous promise of not taking sides, not interfering — an important condition for easing tensions and facilitating dispute resolution. It will also be a wise choice conducive to achieving an all-win scenario for all parties, the US included.

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