Monday, 20 June 2016

How will China react after UNCLOS Tribunal ruling on SCS?

     It is widely believed and the Chinese themselves seem to concede that the UNCLOS Tribunal ruling on the SCS dispute, due shortly, would in all probability go against them. The question on everyone's mind is: How will the Chinese react?
* The core Chinese arguments are contained in three basic points. These are [1] that the UNCLOS Tribunal has no legal right to hear the Filipino case. [2] that it is the US that is instigating the 'trouble' in the SCS area and [3] that China is the unintended 'victim' of this American ploy.
* Another question that arises is that do the Chinese consider their territorial claims in the SCS as "core national" interests? For if they do, then the whole complexion of their response would change.
* In March 2010 the NYT reported that the Chinese, for the first time, in a meeting attended by NSC Asia Director, Jaffrey Bader and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg had confirmed to them that their territorial claims in the SCS were indeed "core" interests. This was followed by the then Chinese Counselor Dai Bingguo telling Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in May 2010 in Washington that this was indeed so. She later confirmed this at a press conference in Australia.
* After President Xi Jinping assumed office in 2012 there has been "strategic ambiguity" in that the Chinese officials have neither denied nor confirmed whether their claims in the SCS were of "core interest". This position remains till today. In other words, the Chinese have maintained diplomatic flexibility and practiced "strategic ambiguity".
* The Chinese rightly complain that all the major countries, such as the US and Japan, that are loudly proclaiming the need to "respect" international law are themselves violators when it suits them. For example, Japan has completely ignored the ICJ ruling of 2014 on whaling operations that went against Japan. Similarly the US ignored the 1986 ICJ ruling on support to contra rebels in Nicaragua that went against it. So to loudly rail against China on not following international law rulings is to say the very least "hypocritical".
*China will play the "victimhood" card as vociferously as possible, since it has internal political dimensions. Already Xu Hong, Director General of the Chinese Foreign Office characterized the expected ruling as a "vicious act". Not to be left behind the Chinese Ambassador to the EU said that "China is a victim of the SCS issue" and Xu Bu the Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN accused Washington as the "conspirator behind this move" and that the US was "dictatorial and over-bearing".
* That the Chinese are going out of their way to line up support from diverse countries such as Kenya, Vanuata, Afghanistan etc. indicates that the expected ruling would probably  have internal repercussions on the ruling group within the CCP.
* The Chinese will ignore the ruling, since it can not be enforced, but will mount a huge propaganda effort against it to show to their domestic audience that the Chinese have been unfairly treated.
* As Fu Ying, Chairperson of the NPC said in the US recently that when it comes to Chinese territory, China will give "not an inch".
* So expect a large scale outpouring of nationalist sentiment, perhaps even large scale demonstrations and an even more rigid Chinese stance. The SCS area is likely to see some turbulent times; but in all probability the jousting would hopefully remain verbal!        

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