After months of dithering, last week the United States navy finally decided to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) near a series of artificial islands in the South China Sea that had been constructed by the Chinese armed forces over the course of the last year. Also last week, the International Court of Justice decided to hear a case brought by the Philippines against China also about the latter’s claims in the South China sea.
Transcript of the video:
Hi Everyone, welcome back to Globalogues. Today, we’re going to do another one of our Narratives Today Narratives in the News and check back in on the South China Sea, where the United States and China and a number of Southeast Asian countries remain locked in an unresolved struggle for, shall we say, Supremacy? Or, at least influence over the South China Sea, through which moves you know hundreds of billions of dollars of global trade.
So, why is this? Why are we checking in?
Well, over the course of this last week, there were two interesting developments that move the “chess pieces” along, as it were, to another stage. Thing one that happened was that after months of dithering of whether to challenge Chinese claims around these artificial islands that they’ve been building, by you know essentially piling up sand on some reefs, which are artificial features not recognized by international law as sovereign territory, the United States Navy conducted what’s called a Freedom of Navigation operation, and sailed one of its destroyers within a twelve mile you know limit of one of these reefs, which is the international limit for sovereign territory. But the United States just went sailing right past the island within twelve miles, and said nothing, ignored Chinese remarks about, “You have to get out of here; this is our territory,” to demonstrate that they do not respect this or, they on behalf of other countries as well do not respect the Chinese claim about it.
And this was talked about for a while, “How forceful is the United States going to be in challenging these claims?” There had been a lot of of talk and a lot of fingerwagging, but this is a clear, firm signal that the United States is going to remain committed to pushing back against
Chinese territorial grabs in this you know this area of the world that is so critical to world trade, and, in the view of the United States, ought to be kept as open ocean is open ocean and is not sovereign territory.
The second thing that happened in the South China sea narrative this past week is that the International Court of Justice, at the Hague, agreed to take jurisdiction over a dispute between the Philippines and China. China has consistently resisted any international involvement in the settlement of this dispute, and has said that these disputes are you know beyond the need for any international court to get involved, its sovereignty is obvious, so on and so forth. The Philippines, however, rejected this claim and went directly to the ICJ, and, after listening to arguments from the Philippines China did not show up the ICJ decided that it does have jurisdiction over the case, and will hear it.
At the very least, it is involving other international institutions beyond ASEAN you know, the various Southeast Asian countries China and the United States; it is bringing additional international weight to bear. China has consistently said that any disputes that arise have to have handled only on a bilateral basis, which is definitely suiting their interests, as they are a much larger and more potent player than any of the other claimant countries. But you know other claimant countries recognize this, and want to bring in outside influence.
China’s maximalist claims are part of a you know broader pattern of increasingly vociferous nationalism coming from the Chinese Communist Party at the highest levels, as their need for additional mechanisms for legitimation and justification of their rule become more apparent as Chinese economic growth slows down. And it doesn’t seem likely that at any point in the near future, China is going to be letting up on its claims in the South China Sea.
Thanks very much for watching, and see you all next time.