Monday, 11 July 2016

Is a Conflict in the SCS Dispute Inevitable?

         Tomorrow on 12th July 2016, the International Tribunal set-up under UNCLOS is expected to make public its ruling on the SCS dispute that is widely expected to go against the Chinese. The Chinese themselves are resigned to such an outcome. The question that is uppermost in the minds of most people is: what are the Chinese likely to do? Will the cascading belligerent statements emanating from the disputants inevitably lead to some kind of a clash? Several very eminent strategic analysts have given their opinions, whilst these are no doubt very sound, but these opinions are all in the realm of possibilities. Why not let the Chinese themselves answer what they are likely to do? The most authoritative Chinese narrative so far has come from a person no less than Dai Bingguo, the former Chinese State Councilor [2008-13], who was also the Director-General[DG] of the Office of Foreign Affairs leading Group of the Chinese Communist Party[CCP] Central Committee and DG of the Office of National Security Leadership Group of the CCP Central Committee. This is what he had to say:
*It was the Chinese people who were the first to "discover, name, develop and administer" the islands in the SCS and that the Chinese government was the first to "peacefully, effectively and continuously exercise jurisdiction over the SCS islands".
*During the Second World War, these islands were illegally occupied by the Japanese, but under the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation these islands were returned to China. The US till recently "respected and recognized" Chinese sovereignty over the Nansha [SCS] islands.
*To be blunt, when the US says that it has no position on the sovereignty issue now; it amounts to "back-peddling".
*Since 1970, the Philippines, Vietnam and others have occupied 42 islands and reefs by force. These countries have carried out large scale construction and deployed armaments and taken "provocative " action on the high seas. Stand in China's shoes: would the US have tolerated such provocation?
*The final award of the International Tribunal is a "piece of paper". China will never accept imposition by any third party.
*Any country that tries to implement the award must remember that China "will not sit idle".
*Nevertheless, China stands for the peaceful settlement of disputes as this best reflects international law under the UN Charter and that negotiations and peaceful settlement is the only way forward.
*China has settled its land boundaries with 12 out of 14 countries with which it has land boundaries. Nearly 20,000 kms of boundaries have been surveyed and demarcated. The Sino-Vietnam maritime boundary in Beibu Gulf has been settled through negotiations.
*There is no fundamental clash of interests between the US and China in SCS area. This area can be turned into an area of co-operation instead of confrontation. People will not forgive if Sino-US co-operation built over 40 years is ruined by "misjudgment and mishandling".
* Quite clearly therefore, Dai Bingguo is emphasizing: "do not provoke us, for we will defend our rights". At the same time, the Chinese are pleading for restraint, negotiations and peaceful settlement and not to push them into a corner. It would therefore follow that if the status quo is maintained post the award, there is little chance of a conflict. But restraint would have to be exercised by all sides to the dispute.

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