US battleship in South China Sea corners China

Picture courtesy: www.

By Arka Mondal

With the US, recently, sending a warship to the troubled waters, China came under tremendous pressure over its control in the South China Sea. Another blow to the China’s claim in the maritime region came when an international tribunal ruled that it had jurisdiction in a case brought by the Philippines on maritime dispute case.

China’s artificial island building move is expected to get another jolt with the pro-American countries eyeing the initiative as a security threat to the neighbouring countries as China keeps flexing its naval prowess.

Furthermore, China’s Foreign Ministry declaring that the international tribunal’s ruling was “null and void” drew flak from various global quarters. However, neither the ruling by the tribunal nor the US deploying warship would affect China from asserting control in the sea known to be rich in resources.

It is evident that Beijing is putting a higher priority on its strategic interests than its international reputation.

The Chinese strategy has also threatened its reputation in the global arena at a time when it is vying with the US in the field of economy and military.

The verdict by the international tribunal will bolster the strategies of United States which has undoubtedly failed to curb China from asserting control over 80 per cent of the South China Sea. Welcoming the verdict, the US hoped that Beijing would too accept the final ruling slated to be pronounced next year.

Notably, both China and Philippines consented to the setting up of the tribunal which came into place based on the provision of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, after the Philippine case was filed before the tribunal in The Hague in January 2013, China boycotted the proceedings.

The Philippine case contends that China’s massive territorial claims are invalid under the convention. The tribunal on Thursday decided it had jurisdiction in the case.

In a freedom of navigation exercise this week, the US spotted an artificial island which the Philippines claimed that China had illegally set up. The tribunal is also expected to examine the Sino occupation on a number of reefs and shoals.

“The fact that the tribunal did not reject jurisdiction on anything in the case brought by the Philippines, and could end up ruling against it on all these counts, introduces uncertainty and anxiety for China,” Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, was quoted as saying.

Malcolm Cook, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said that outside of China, many maritime law experts feel the Philippines has a strong case and are skeptical of the legal basis for China’s expansive claims, which it says are rooted in history. China roughly demarcates this vast area on maps with a nine-dash line.

Despite China’s latest legal setback, both Glaser and Cook apprehended that there would be no change in China’s plans.

“The Chinese navy has a very strong interest in gaining greater sea control over the South China Sea and this interest and its pursuit will likely not be affected by tribunal rulings,” Cook said.

In all, six Asian governments have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, straddling some of the world’s busiest sea lanes and in areas with rich fishing grounds and potential undersea oil and gas fields.

China needs to control this area to deter any intervention by the United States. That is why the sea is vital to China’s sovereignty, since most of the countries are US allies.

The sailing of the US guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles (22-kilometer) of the reef was one of the boldest steps by the Obama administration which is facing a long-time demand from the Congress to thwart the island-building process by China.

However, the dual development, the verdict from the court and the sending of warship, can compel Beijing to abide by the UN convention. But, probably on the long run, China’s stand on the South China Sea would not change.

(With inputs from TNN)