As expected, an international tribunal ruled that China couldn’t claim historic rights in all the waters within a “nine-dash” line used by Beijing to delineate its South China Sea claims. “There was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’,” the court said, referring to a demarcation line on a 1947 map of the sea.
The five-member panel from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, unanimously concluded that China had violated its obligations to refrain from aggravating the dispute while the settlement process was ongoing. And as expected, China, which boycotted the case brought by the Philippines, immediately rejected the arbitration findings.
Beijing said – “The arbitration tribunal made the illegal and invalid so-called final verdict on the South China Sea dispute on July 12. China has made the statement for many times that it is against the international law that the Aquino III administration of Philippines unilaterally requested the arbitration. The arbitration tribunal has no jurisdiction on this matter.”
In the 497-page ruling, judges also found that China had interfered with Philippine petroleum exploration at Reed Bank, tried to stop fishing by Philippine vessels within the country’s exclusive economic zone and failed to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal.
More importantly, the tribunal decided that China wasn’t entitled to an exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, extending up to 200 nautical miles from any outcrop in the Spratlys archipelago including the largest, Itu Aba, which is claimed by China but controlled by Taiwan. It also ruled that China couldn’t claim 12 nautical miles of territorial seas around Mischief Reef and Subi Reef.
However, just minutes after the ruling was made public on Tuesday, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported that a government-chartered Cessna CE-680, marketed as a midsize corporate jet, successfully completed test flights to new airports on Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, the two largest of the artificial islands it has built in the Spratlys.
As consolation, the tribunal did rule that China had a right to 12 nautical miles of territorial waters around five more of its artificial islands. The unanimous ruling by the tribunal’s five judges is legally binding for China and the Philippines but can only be enforced through international pressure. The US$5 trillion dollar question is: who dares or willing to enforce the ruling?
That’s right, while it looks like a sweet victory to everyone except China with the international tribunal ruling, who is willing to enforce it? The short answer – United States of America. The long answer – nobody, including the U.S., dares to risk a South China Sea War if China refuses to get out of whatever artificial islands they had built and presently building.
Is President Barack Obama ready to start a war with China, by forcefully confiscate China-built islands or demolish them for that matter? Even if U.S. plans to use the proper channel such as United Nations to declare a war on China, are the rest of nations (Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei) laying claims to certain areas of the Spratly Islands willingly and openly support it?
We know that the Philippines new President – Rodrigo Duterte – is open to having joint exploration between the Philippines and China in the disputed waters. “I will not go to war because we will not win it. It will be a massacre. I will not waste the lives of Filipino soldiers and policemen. Ano ako, gago? Patay lahat iyan,’‘ he said.
Duterte also said – “Build me a train around Mindanao, build me train from Manila to Bicol, build me a train to Batangas, for the 6 years that I’ll be president, I’ll shut up”. Likewise, Brunei’s Hassanah Bolkiah, once the world’s richest man, dares not squeak but quietly accept attractive production-sharing options for the South China Sea resources plus other economic incentives offered by Beijing.
To say America would really go to war with China to save Taiwan is like saying America and NATO would go to war with Russia to save Crimea from Russia’s annexation. Did someone say Crimea had already been annexed without Vladimir Putin lifting a finger? Next – Vietnam to partner with U.S. for a war, possibly a nuclear war with China. Seriously? After the Vietnam War?
As for Malaysia, well, forget them. If their military didn’t even realize the invasion of 100 to 500 Sulu militants – reportedly malnourished, old, wearing sarong and slippers – into Sabah roughly 3 years ago, they would be the last nation in Asian dare to go to war against China. Additionally, Najib administration badly needs cash from the Chinese to bail out his 1MDB scandals.
On the contrary, the international tribunal delivers nothing but forcing Beijing to strengthen and increase its military presence in the South China Sea. The Chinese coastguard will continue to chase and sink Vietnamese fishing boats, encroach in Malaysian waters while Najib regime pretends nothing happened, fire water cannon at the Philippines fishermen and whatnot.
Let’s not even talk about war machines that Chinese PLA Navy possesses. According to a report by the US Office of Naval Intelligence, the Chinese has 205 offshore coastguard vessels, of which 95 have a displacement of more than 1,000 tonnes and some are refurbished navy vessels. In comparison, Vietnam has 55, Indonesia 8, the Philippines 4, and Malaysia 2.
Sure, China is a big bully in South China Sea and they aren’t shy about demonstrating it. After what had happened in Vietnam War, Korean War, Gulf War, Syrian War, ISIS War, Libyan Civil War, is there any country in the region willing to join America to start a new South China Sea War against China? And we haven’t even talk about Russia joining the party.
There’s only one solution – every single country laying claim on the disputed area should do nothing but to engage China in a joint-exploration for production-sharing options. That’s the best deal they can get because the Chinese doesn’t give a damn about the so-called international tribunal ruling. Beijing could start its propaganda and rally its people that the country is now under foreign attack.
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