Regional powers’ “softball” approach of moral suasion has clearly failed to deter China from militarising its illegal claims in the South China Sea.
China’s disregard for international law as a “self-serving Western construct” has been well-telegraphed, but is still rather odd from a willing signatory of key multilateral agreements, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
While resentment over “stolen territories” may explain some of Beijing’s thinking on the matter, it should never be flagged as a justification for Beijing’s coercion.
It is unfortunate that Sino-centric apologists in Southeast Asia should even suggest that the state is above the law because of its historical grievances.
Throughout history, many other countries have also lost territories to colonialism and war. But as far as I know, no country has resorted to the scale of revanchism and irredentism that Beijing continues to impose on our shared maritime heritage.
Meanwhile Chinese insistence that the “underlying purpose of international conventions is to facilitate conflict mitigation and guide dispute resolution” smacks of lip service at best.
Even more so, when UNCLOS – the most relevant and neutral of these conventions for the regulation of international maritime affairs, and a guiding principle for constructive negotiations among all interested parties, including non-claimant states with huge stakes in the free flow of trade – is being treated with contempt by a major claimant.
Where is that room for compromise which China and its supporters are touting?
I urge those who support China’s contentious maritime claims to carefully reflect on the grave implications for the region, the world and, indeed, human civilisation, should Beijing succeed in implementing its extravagant nine-dash line map over vast swathes of the South China Sea. There is nothing nuanced about such an outcome.
Toh Cheng Seong