South China Sea territorial dispute has been the top news item of the recent weeks and is still developing as such. China, the fastest growing economy in Asia and the second biggest economy in the world, claims almost the entire energy rich South China Sea waters. Through the South China Sea, more than US dollar 5 trillions worth of marine trade passes cash year. The four ASEAN nations—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam—and the self-ruled territory, Taiwan have the over-lapping claims over the same South China Sea.
China’s assertiveness in this “South Sea’’ has raised tensions with its neighbours and with the United States, which is the dominant security partners of the Philippines and Taiwan. Against this background and China’s assertiveness and unilateral claims over the South China sea, the United States of America has come into this sea dispute, in a sense, I think, for the purpose of balance of power and in another sense, for the purpose of getting this solved peacefully and diplomatically according to international law. Moreover, as this territorial dispute is a big international issue, it is actively and intensively discussed in ASEAN and US leaders special summit held in California, U.S.A. At the end of 15-16 February Special ASEAN and US leaders summit this topic is mentioned in the Sunny Lands Declaration. But no mention of China is made, as China is not present in the summit. It is an act of diplomacy, I think, In this article only the extract of joint declaration, relevant to the topic will be mentioned as follows:
– Mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, equality and political independence of all nations by firmly upholding the principles and purposes of the charter of the United Nations, the ASEAN Charter and international law.
– Shared commitment to peaceful solution of dispute including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resort to the threat or use of force in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Fox News Agency of the United States reported very recently that China has deployed an advanced surface to air missile system on one of the disputed islands of South China Sea. Taiwan authorities confirmed the deployment. Regarding this news item, China said these reports were creations of some western media. However, when asked about reports of deployment of missiles, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman replied that any deployment of missiles on China’s own territory would be legitimate. But, Viet Nam, one of the rival claimants over the South China Sea protested China’s missile deployment, saying it a serious violation of Viet Nam’s sovereignty. Australia and New Zealand urged both China and Viet Nam to exercise restraint.
As this territorial dispute goes far beyond the national interests of the parties concerned, US and European Union could not afford to remain silent and unconcerned. So, US and EU also warn China to respect international law, and South China Sea ruling. US also accuses China of raising tensions in the South China Sea. And as China has set up air fields and has built artificial islands and has now deployed missile system on the South China Sea, US President Obama calls for need to lower South China Sea tension. In this situation, U.S.A also states that U.S.A will continue to fly and sail wherever international law allows, emphasizing freedom of air-flight and navigation.
As regards this issue, the “United States and ASEAN agreed on the importance of a rule-based regional and international order that upholds and protects the rights and privileges of all states.”
And “with malice towards none, with charity for all and with firmness in the right’’ or in other words, with a good-will towards all parties to the dispute, I, a retired diplomat, with some sort of legal background, would like to submit my sincere, simple, and humble views on this dispute, in essence, that it should be settled in accordance with international law in general and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in particular. Moreover, where, there is a dispute among states, it should be settled by diplomatic means in good faith and with a good will. Where there is a will, there is a way. It is a well-known old saying. In addition, may I also submit that diplomacy is the first line of defence, when it comes to settling a dispute. In other words, any assertion, any claims and any dispute should be settled peacefully or by diplomatic means. It is a well-established, time-tested and long-lasting doctrine that diplomacy is the time of defence.
In this news analysis, I would like to quote the wise remarks of H.E Bernardo Zuela, UN Under Secretary-General and special Representative of the UNSG for the law of the sea, particularly “on the settlement of disputes,” as prescribed in the UN Convention. It reads as follows:
“The convention obliges parties to settle their dispute peacefully and provides a selection of methods for doing so in the event that they are otherwise unable to reach agreement even with the third party intervention. The system under the convention is a compulsory and binding one in that, with limited exceptions, a party has no choice but to submit to a settlement procedure if requested to do so by the other disputant and is bound to abide by the findings of the body to which the dispute is submitted.”
In this territorial dispute, tensions are escalating especially between China and the United States. So, let’s wait and see how this dispute will be settled finally and also let’s hope and expect that it will be solved diplomatically and legally without threat or use of force by the parties concerned. May peace, law and order prevail in this world of us.
(1) The Global New Light of Myanmar.
(2) Channel News Asia Satellite Channel
(3) Oxford Advanced Leaner’s Dictionary
(4) UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.