BienDong.Net

The rallying of force and the South China Sea note verbale battle

E-mail Print PDF

The rallying of force and the South China Sea note verbale battleAmid the complex and uncertain developments in international and regional landscape, the interests of countries are intertwined. Every state undertakes actions on the basis of their national interests, and thus, the international and regional force rally is characterized with new features, and develops based on particular issue and specific region. When countries have convergent interests, the rallying of the new force is inevitable. This is demonstrated clearly in the on-going note verbale battle on the South China Sea.

In December 2019, Malaysia made its submission on the outer limits of its extended continental shelf in the northern area of the South China Sea to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). In its submission, Malaysia defined the waters for corresponding features in the Spratly Islands on the basis of legal basis provided for in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982 and the PCA Ruling of July 12th 2016 on the Philippines vs. China Arbitration on the South China Sea.

In response, China promptly made its submission to the UN. In its submission, China asserted its claim over the so-called “Four Shas”, which accounted for 90% of the South China Sea, and expanded enormously into the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, as well as the adjacent waters of Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. This move initiated the note verbale battle on the South China Sea among China and the rest in the UN.

Subsequently, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines in turn also submitted their notes verbale to the UN to reject China’s claims. Moreover, the presence of two external states in this note verbale battle, namely the US (through the US Ambassador to the UN’s letter to the UN Secretary-General on June 1st 2020) and Australia (through its note verbale submitted to the UN on July 23rd 2020), contributed to the recent hot-talk on "the rule of law".

Despite their diverse tones, the notes verbale of Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia as well as the letter of the US all rejected, on the basis of UNCLOS, China’s claims on historic rights and the “nine-dash line” or the “Four Shas” in the South China Sea. Simultaneously, they highlighted the Tribunal’s Ruling dated July 12th 2016.

Some analysts believe that Beijing is giving favourable conditions for Washington to increase the force rally in the South China Sea to counter China. Without China’s aggressive actions and violations of international law, the US would have no good reason to either engage in the South China Sea or muster force in this sea. If China kept on behaving like this, other states would possibly establish a new front to restrain it in the South China Sea.

The US raised the South China Sea issues in the UN by sending a letter to the UN Secretary-General and requesting the letter to be circulated to all UN members to expose Beijing's disregard of international law, hence the US gain of other states’ agreement. In some observers’ projection, Washington will continue bringing up this issue at the UN General Assembly to put more pressure on Beijing.

To promote the establishment of a legal “front” on the South China Sea issues and following the tough stance demonstrated in its strong statement rejecting China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea, Washington’s policy is to ask US ambassadors to voice objection to China’s ambition to monopolize the South China Sea as well as China’s threats and intimidation towards its neighbouring countries. The US ambassadors to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines fulminated against China’s claim and behaviour in the South China Sea. Notably, the Australian Ambassador to India also partook in the “battle of words” with the Chinese Ambassador to India regarding the legal aspect of the South China Sea issues.

Recently, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made phone calls with Foreign Ministers of the South China Sea littoral states, namely Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Indonesia, and Singapore to discuss the South China Sea issues. Mr Pompeo underscores that the US rejects China’s unlawful claims in the South China Sea, and China's coercion to push for them. Concomitantly, he wanted to assert the US’s support to ASEAN countries in maintaining their sovereign rights and interests in sync with international law.

As many experts say, despite close economic relations with China, the South China Sea littoral states did not miss the opportunity to partake in the legal battle, in which they presented legal arguments to reject China’s claims. ASEAN countries also took up a tougher stance in exalting international law in the South China Sea. The Joint Communiqué of the 36th ASEAN Summit also affirms the role of UNCLOS 1982 as the legal foundation for peaceful dispute settlement in the South China Sea.

During the 33rd US-ASEAN dialogue on August 5th 2020, participants reaffirmed the necessity to resolve disputes in the South China Sea by peaceful means in conformity with international law as reflected in UNCLOS 1982 and the PCA Ruling 2016. The participants included David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and ASEAN senior officers.

Other sources disclosed that India proposed that a joint statement between the Indo-Pacific “QUAD” countries (the US, Japan, India, and Australia) and ASEAN be issued. This illustrated the increasing support for more pressure on China on the South China Sea issues. As in US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement on Twitter on August 3rd 2020, the threats posed by China have been growing, and like-minded countries have been joining hands to contain them.

It is not likely that the South China Sea littoral states would form an alliance to counter China regarding the South China Sea due to the tremendous economic dependence on China, hence the avoidance of taking sides. However, the rallying of force regarding the South China Sea grounded on a common stand to upkeep the “rule of law” and the rules-based order is an objective reality in line with the aspiration of the South China Sea small littoral states as well as the international community.

The note verbale battle, with the participation of the US and Australia, has significant implications for the enhancement of the force rally in the South China Sea, which is between a party upholding the adherence to international law and the one violating it.

By issuing an official statement rejecting China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea based on UNCLOS 1982 and the Ruling dated July 12th 2016, and supporting the South China Sea littoral states’ rights to exploit their legitimate marine resources, the US is leading the rallying of force to counter China’s expansion and hegemony in the South China Sea. Such US actions will continue to receive supports from the international community, which may isolate China in the South China Sea issues.

 

Joomlart