Regional Peace in South Asia is the basic necessity for the success of China’s BRI initiative (CfE on “Belt and Road Initiative” contribution)

by Souvik Lal Chakraborty

Disclaimer: This analysis was written a few weeks ago and does not include the most recent developments in South Asia’s and especially India’s relationship to China.                                                                       

Abstract

China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative has tremendous potential to change the current world order and the economic scenario of the South Asian region. There are many procedural and managerial issues, which still need to be sorted out to implement this grand initiative. The aim of this article is to point out a few important issues in the South Asian geo-politics, which can play a major role in the success of BRI. To make the economic leverage of BRI a reality, China needs to assure peace and stability  the South Asian region because without trust at all levels this initiative will remain unsuccessful.

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Regional Peace in South Asia is the basic necessity for the success of China’s BRI initiative

China’s multi-trillion dollar dream project ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) surely has the potential to change the economic scenario of China and the whole of the South Asian region. But without regional security and peace in South Asia, the success of this initiative is highly questionable.

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was one of the flagship initiatives, which was undertaken as a part of the BRI initiative. This 46$ Billion investment connects Pakistan’s Gwadar Port in Balochistan province with China’s Xinjiang province. The main problem with this project is that, CPEC runs through Balochistan and Kashmir in the Pakistani region (which the Indians call Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or PoK and claim as their own territory), a highly disputed area between the two nuclear-powered arch rivals, India and Pakistan. The Government of India showed serious objection to this project when it was launched in 2015 but both the Chinese and the Pakistani administration did not pay much attention to India’s concerns and carried on with their development initiative. Indian administration still hasn’t changed their stance on this issue and remains skeptical about China’s intention and motives behind the BRI initiative. Just before China organized its Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in May 2017, India expressed its opinion that it cannot accept a project which hurts its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The heads of government or dignitaries of twenty-nine countries attended BRF, including Russia, U.S.A, and major European countries along with all the neighbours of India other than Bhutan. But India boycotted this forum and issued a statement just before the start of this forum, which addressed their concern on this initiative.

During the BRF inauguration in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping, made a statement that all countries should respect territorial integrity and sovereignty of other nations. It is very evident that he was indicating to India’s concern over CPEC, which runs through Kashmir in the Pakistani side. Pakistan has remained an all-weather ally of China over the past few decades. This relationship has evolved in the past few years because both these nations have outstanding issues with India. On regard to CPEC, China needs to play its diplomatic cards very carefully. China would surely want India to be a part of this initiative due to the sheer size of India’s growing economy and its market. The recent series of events make it very clear that even the Chinese administrators are capricious in dealing with this issue. India’s leading daily newspaper, Times of India reported on May 9, 2017 that the Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi, Luo Zhaohui, commented that China can consider changing the name of CPEC, if India is willing to participate in this initiative. But this comment triggered anger on the Pakistani side and they asked for an explanation from the Chinese Counsel General in Pakistan. After this incident, Chinese authorities silently deleted the comment of the Chinese Ambassador to rename CPEC from their Embassy’s website.

A few months back, Chinese authorities made it clear that the Kashmir-related dispute of India and Pakistan should be solved between the two countries bilaterally and that they are not going to interfere in this dispute. But when China decided to take the CPEC’s development projects through the disputed area of Kashmir on the Pakistani side, China automatically made itself a party to the dispute directly or indirectly. Indian diplomacy has repeatedly made it clear that they are not going to accept any kind of third party interference in this dispute and it should be resolved between the two countries in a peaceful atmosphere. Therefore China needs to handle this issue very carefully for the successful implementation of the BRI project and to make India a party to it, for its own economic leverage.

The world community will also look forward to China’s process of dealing with Pakistan’s reputation of human rights violation in the Balochistan province where people have repeatedly protested against the CPEC and where the Pakistani administration has suppressed their voices with brutal force. Chinese security forces are increasing their presence in Pakistan to protect the CPEC infrastructure in Gwadar port and in other adjoining areas. This has also raised suspicion for some scholars. Is this another manifestation of ‘neo-colonization’? Common people in India along with the government are also skeptical about the real Chinese intention. China has repeatedly tried to encircle India from all sides by increasing its sphere of influence in India’s neighbouring countries. BRI will also involve maritime connections following the ancient Silk Route model. Therefore it appears to be highly possible that China, in a few years’ time, will try to enforce its soft power to dock its naval vessels in and around India in the signatory states of BRI by just citing security reasons or for the sake of giving a safe passage for the transfer of goods. This is also a major security concern for India.

Keeping in mind the Chinese perspective, it is understandable that the complex and problematic situation in the South Asian region is rather difficult to handle. India and Pakistan have been hostile neighbours from 1947 onwards. China has also some border issues with India which are still not resolved. And the recent standoff between the two armies in Doklam, Bhutan is a new addition in the list of global conflict zones in world politics. According to some school of scholars, the recent standoff in Doklam is an indirect way of increasing psychological pressure on India and Bhutan to be a part of the BRI initiative.

China surely needs to think about its diplomatic stance to deal with India if they want India on board of the BRI initiative. On the one hand Chinese leaders are using soft power to convince India about its involvement in BRI through various platforms and on the other hand the government is indirectly using its news daily Global Times (which is known to be the mouth piece of the Chinese government) in criticizing India’s domestic policies and its policies towards China on a regular basis. This is contradictory.

So, to conclude this article it can be said that the ball is on China’s court when it comes to dealing with the outstanding issues of the South Asian region. China needs to stop thinking of its own economic interests only. China is verbally saying that it respects the sovereignty of other nations but needs to showcase this through concrete actions. It is still not clear what will be the exact management and investment model of BRI but the global powers will surely keep a close watch on China with regards to how it deals with the two hostile nuclear-powered South Asian neighbours, India and Pakistan. Recently Iran and Afghanistan have also warned Pakistan to stop using their soil for “breeding terrorists”, which is destabilizing the peace of the whole region. China needs to address these issues with its ally, Pakistan. Ultimately the success of BRI will depend upon the regional peace in South Asia. There should be an atmosphere of trust at all levels in order to make this kind of grand initiative successful. And China needs to play a much more constructive role in this regard, to make BRI a reality through which not only China will prosper but all the nations involved with it.

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References

Bagchi, I. (2017, May 14). Times of India Website. Retrieved May 15, 2017, from Times of India Website: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-to-skip-one-belt-one-road-meet-in-bid-to-keep-pok-road-open/articleshow/58664363.cms

Dasgupta, S. (2017, May 4). Times of India website. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from Times of India website: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/contradictory-views-on-kashmir-emerging-from-china/articleshow/58520286.cms

Irfan Raza, S. (2016, October 18). Dawn News Website. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from Dawn News WEBSITE: https://www.dawn.com/news/1290677

Los Angeles Times. (2017, July 24). Los Angeles Times . Retrieved July 30, 2017, from Los Angeles Times Website: http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-china-india-doklam-standoff-20170724-story.html

Rehman, D. (2017, May 8). Daily Pakistan Global Website. Retrieved May 10, 2017, from Daily Pakistan Global Website: https://en.dailypakistan.com.pk/headline/pakistan-seeks-clarification-over-chinas-offer-for-india-to-re-name-cpec/

The New Indian Express. (2017, May 14). The New Indian Express Website. Retrieved May 15, 2017, from The New Indian Express Website: http://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2017/may/14/at-br-forum-xi-says-all-countries-should-respect-sovereignty-1604789.html

Times of India. (2017, May 9). Times of India Website. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from Times of India Website: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/china-removes-envoys-offer-of-renaming-cpec-from-speech-transcript/articleshow/58595231.cms

Territorial Dispute over Senkaku/Diaoyu Island be-tween Japan and China and its Representation of Difficulties of Applicability of International Law

Territorial Dispute over Senkaku/Diaoyu Island between Japan and China and its Representation of Difficulties of Applicability of International Law

Written by

Ritika Singh

Abstract

International law is a rather young phenomenon – especially if we think of how old and historically complicated nations and relations between them have been, and remain to be. In this paper, I dissect the seemingly intractable Sino-Japanese conflict over Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. I trace the historical origin and competing claims of both Japan and China over the islands, and map out the inability of international law, as we know it, to resolve it. I conclude with some recommendations on how international law can aspire to overcome its own inadequacies.

Read the fifth Mapping China Working Paper of 2017 here: Working Paper Series 2017 5

Street in Beijing

Integration and Disintegration in Asia: Mapping Domestic and Regional Challenges for China “Chinas Strategie im Südchinesischen Meer”

by

Christian Flath

Abstract

Vor dem Hintergrund stetig wachsender Spannungen im Südchinesischen Meer analysiert die vorliegende Arbeit Chinas Strategie in der umstrittenen Region. Dabei argumentiert der Autor, dass chinesisches Handeln von drei zentralen und komplementären Strategien geprägt ist, genauer einer Taktik der „strategischen Verzögerung“, der Idee von „Zuckerbrot und Peitsche“ und der Maxime „Divide et Impera“. Eine Analyse dieser Strategien kann dazu beitragen, das Verhalten Chinas zu verstehen und korrekt einzuordnen.

 

Lies das zweite Mapping China Working Paper 2017 hier: Working Paper Series 2017 2

The Nine Dash Line and UNCLOS: Why China’s Strategists and International Law Don’t Get Along

by Andreas Kechagias

Last week, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) announced its decisions in respect to a number of maritime disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea (SCS). In doing so, it marched head-first into the middle of one of the globe’s most sensitive geopolitical regions. While explicitly stating that the PCA’s authority does not extend to issues involving national sovereignty or the conduct of military activities, by refuting all Chinese claims to “historic rights” within the so-called Nine Dash Line, the 501-page decision[1] has profound implications for the delicately balanced, uneasy coexistence of the United States and China in the East Pacific, and could catalyse an escalation of tensions in the region.

Deterrence 101

For the benefit of those approaching the case from a legal rather than geopolitical perspective, and before delving into the specifics of China-US relations in the SCS, it is worth taking a step back to discuss, in general terms, the role of military contingency planning and conventional deterrence in the contemporary relations between major powers (We are treating nuclear deterrence as separate and setting it aside for now, we will return to it presently).

The primary function of defensive military capabilities is not to defend against attack. Rather, the existence of adequate defences is designed to affect the risk-reward calculus of potential adversaries, deterring an attack from materialising in the first place. It is the role of a country’s strategic planners to assume that conflicts of interest will inevitably arise between states, and that if vulnerabilities exist in the country’s defences, the threat, if not the actual use, of military force will be used as leverage against it. To not take all appropriate action to identify and address such vulnerabilities is at best a dereliction of duty, and at worse can be thought to embolden unscrupulous actors, by reducing the risks of belligerent, aggressive behavior.[2]

At the same time, a careful balance must be struck, as unconstrained military build-up can set off what is commonly referred to as a “security dilemma” dynamic.[3] Increases in military capabilities perceived as being in excess of what’s required to guarantee one’s defensive interests can lead others to counterbalance by investing more in their own military. The resulting downward spiral is marked by wasteful arms racing, loss of trust and increased risk of escalating tensions leading to conflict.

Matters become significantly more complex when discussing interactions between major powers. For one, the geographic scope is greatly expanded as a function of two parallel processes. Internally, major powers define their interests more broadly, as both their influence and dependence on the outside world become deeper. At the same time, they typically accrue numerous external commitments, such as overseas military bases or mutual defence alliances with smaller states. With greater need to project power beyond their borders, it becomes harder for third parties to differentiate between offensive and defensive intent and posture.

Second, there is the issue of nuclear weapons. All countries currently in possession of sizeable nuclear arsenals have a guaranteed second-strike capability.[4] Because of this, extreme care is taken by planners to avoid scenarios in which a possible confrontation between nuclear-armed states could quickly devolve into a choice between defeat or nuclear escalation. In short, successful conventional deterrence between great powers today should mean they and their allies are well-defended enough for nuclear weapons to never become part of the equation.

 The South China Sea and A2AD

Let’s now return to the SCS. As China’s prodigious economic growth continues to provides it with the resources, self-confidence and ambition to play a more central role in international affairs, Chinese strategists are tasked with addressing China’s geographic vulnerability to an attack from the Pacific. In a lesson painfully learned during the Opium Wars which set off the “Century of Humiliation”, China found that the concentration of national economic activity to the country’s east, spread across the numerous large cities dotting its long coastline and reliant on water-borne trade, left the country woefully exposed to Britain’s naval superiority and “gunboat diplomacy”.

In a contemporary context, this only looms larger in the minds of Beijing’s leaders. Not only major urban centres remain vulnerable to direct attack from the sea, but the Chinese economy is more dependent than ever on the uninterrupted flow of maritime trade. More than 90% of the goods exported by China, valued at about 20% of national GDP, pass through ports such as Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou, while as much as 80% of its oil imports and 30% of its natural gas imports have to pass through the Straits of Malacca and the SCS before reaching the mainland.[5] Any disruption of these trade flows, for instance due to a blockade by a superior naval force, holds the potential to send shockwaves through the Chinese economy, leaving Beijing with a choice between acquiescing to military blackmail, or threatening nuclear escalation.

China has chosen to satisfy its deterrence requirements through the pursuit of an Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2AD) strategy. A2AD, in simple terms, involves the creation of a defensive perimeter, robust enough to keep even an opponent of superior capabilities at bay, or at least render them unable to operate within this perimeter without significant costs. Investments in the development of new weapon technologies, such as the infamous DF-21D “Aircraft Carrier-Killer” ballistic missile, [6] and the creation of a network of airfields and military bases, including on artificial islands raised explicitly for that purpose, are all part of the effort to establish this A2AD perimeter across the First Island Chain, with the Nine Dash Line serving as its southern border.

Unbenannt

It should be made clear at this point that the characterisation of A2AD as a purely defensive doctrine is me affording China the benefit of the doubt, and is certainly not an opinion shared by everyone, particularly within the United States. Their concerns are not unfounded. The same A2AD capabilities that protect China against coercion could just as easily be utilised to disrupt non-Chinese maritime trade flowing through the SCS. Amounting to 5.3 trillion dollars yearly, or a full third of the world’s total, the potential repercussions of a disruption for the global economy have led the White House to declare in 2010 freedom of maritime navigation within the SCS as a “US national interest”.[7] Furthermore, the A2AD perimeter defined by China surrounds, or borders, a number of countries who have long relied on the United States to guarantee their security, and are less than thrilled by the prospect of losing this aegis of protection.

 Those concerns centre around the credibility of US guarantees of defence. In 1996, during a period of increased tensions between Taipei and Beijing, Chinese missile tests off the coast of Taiwan were scheduled to coincide with presidential elections on the island, in what many[8] saw as a brazen attempt to intimidate the Taiwanese electorate away from voting for the incumbent Lee Teng-hu, who was deeply unpopular in Beijing. Those tactics proved unsuccessful, in no small part because the Clinton administration ordered two – out of the US’s total of ten – aircraft carrier battle groups (CVBGs) to the region, as a demonstration of American commitment to Taiwan’s defence. Were something similar to happen today, it is less certain that the White House would be willing to place a CVBG, comprised of roughly 7500 personnel and 10 billion dollars of military hardware, at risk on behalf of an ally against China’s improved A2AD capabilities, many of which (such as the aforementioned DF-21D missile) were developed as a direct response to the 1996 incident.[9]

Implications of the Philippines v. China Judgement

Enter the PCA. The ruling, rendered under the authority of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), covers a swath of issues, from fishing and resource extraction rights to duties of environmental preservation. While having to rule on the legal standing of many of the Spratlys under the definitions set by UNCLOS, the PCA stated explicitly that it did not intent to adjudicate competing sovereignty claims involving land features, or to settle competing maritime border claims, with the first falling outside the purview of UNCLOS, and China having opted out of the provisions allowing for the second.

 Nevertheless, the decision refuting China’s claims of “historic rights” to the waters of the SCS, in essence strikes down the Nine Dash Line as illegal, and establishes as legal fact that most of the SCS constitutes international waters, where no restrictions or interference should exist on freedom of navigation. Coupled with two other aspects of the ruling – the determination that neither Scarborough Shoal nor any of the Spratly (Nánshā 南沙)islands give rise to exclusive territorial waters beyond the minimum 12 miles, and the reaffirmation that under UNCLOS artificial islands cannot give rise to any claim of territorial waters – it eliminates any possibility of China continuing to pursue the construction of its A2AD perimeter without finding itself in violation of international law.

China has already declared its intent to completely disregard the ruling, a rare outright dismissal of the current international multilateral order typically avoided by Beijing. Given the tremendous significance – political, strategic, but also historical – bestowed to the attainment of credible deterrent capabilities against attacks from the sea, this hardline position appears unlikely to change, and increasingly harsh responses to future challenges to the legitimacy of the Nine Dash Line should be expected. The immediate demonstration of defiance against the ruling, likely to materialise within the next few weeks, will provide indications on how hard China is willing to push back. Potential responses could include the declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the SCS (as was done for the East China Sea in 2013,[10]  or intensification of its land reclamation efforts on one or more disputed reefs.

The United States has stated on a number of occasions that it considers the result of the arbitration as legally binding for all parties. Furthermore, since October 2015, it has begun conducting three freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) in the South China Sea, sending warships to waters within 12 nautical miles of islands and rocks claimed by China, the Philippines and others without prior notification, to challenge what it sees as excessive maritime claims.[11] Immediately following the PCA’s ruling, France declared its intentions to join in those efforts,[12] demonstrating the potential of the ruling to greatly escalate tensions in the region, transforming its enforcement into a litmus test for the legitimacy of UNCLOS and the current international legal order as a whole.

A compromise acceptable to all sides remains distant, and the role the arbitration judgement will end up playing in its achievement won’t be known for some time. But as a new balance is being sought in the Asia Pacific, there are reasons for cautious optimism. While a lasting solution remains distant and tensions will inevitably flare up on occasion, both sides seem to fully appreciate the peril of their circumstances and actively work to avoid provoking confrontation. Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama have both in recent years made reference to the “Thucydides Trap” – the 25-centuries-old notion that during shifts in the balance of power, the combination of growing entitlement by the rising power with the insecurities of the declining power, inevitably lead to war between them[13] – and have declared their commitment that China and the United States will not fall prey to such historically predestined patterns.


[1] Available in full at https://pca-cpa.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/175/2016/07/PH-CN-20160712-Award.pdf, for the official press release summarising the ruling see https://pca-cpa.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/175/2016/07/PH-CN-20160712-Press-Release-No-11-English.pdf .

[2] The literature on Deterrence Theory is extensive and multifaceted, but anyone looking to explore the subject can do no better than The Psychology of Deterrence by Jervis, Lebow and Stein as a starting point.

[3] Charles Glaser’s Rational Theory of International Politics: The Logic of Competition and Cooperation provides a fascinating overview of the variations between types of security dilemmas and their effect on the behaviour of states.

[4] For an overview of the logic of mutually assured destruction see this paper by Henry Sokolski of the Strategic Studies Institute (http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/Pubs/display.cfm?pubid=585). Alternatively, watch Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The author humbly recommends the second option.

[5] Data from the World Bank online database (http://data.worldbank.org/).

[6] The missile’s existence first became public in 2010 (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/dec/27/china-deploying-carrier-sinking-ballistic-missile/).

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/24/world/asia/24diplo.html.

[8] http://articles.philly.com/1996-03-21/news/25635448_1_taiwan-and-china-taiwan-strait-taiwan-relations-act.

[9] According to Andrew Erickson, a specialist on the Chinese military at the U.S. Naval War College who has written a book on the subject (For more see http://www.andrewerickson.com/2013/09/chinas-carrier-killer-was-born-in-the-balkans-the-df-21d-is-chinas-answer-to-americas-carriers-with-an-unusual-origin-in-the-kosovo-war/).

[10] After the Chinese declaration of ADIZ over the East China Sea, the United States responded by flying two B-52 bombers over the area (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-25110011).

[11] Importantly, FONOPs were designed to assert the “right of innocent passage” and deliberately as not to challenge claims of sovereignty. For more on the subject, see http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/return-of-the-fonop-us-navy-destroyer-asserts-freedom-of-navigation-in-paracel-islands/.

[12] For more on the potential role and motivation of the French involvement in the SCS, see http://thediplomat.com/2016/07/south-china-sea-the-french-are-coming/.

[13]For more on the Thucydides Trap, see http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/united-states-china-war-thucydides-trap/406756/.

Game over for China on South China Sea?

by Matej Šimalčík

On 12 July 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) gave its verdict on the Philippines vs. China case, putting a formal end to the three-year-long proceeding the Philippines initiated.

South China Sea (SCS) represents one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, with approximately 50 % of world trade being shipped through the SCS. Moreover, SCS’s bedrock contains vast reserves of oil and natural gas. According to the US Energy Information Administration there are proven reserves of 11 billion barrels of oil and 7500 cubic kilometers of natural gas. Furthermore, there are important fisheries found in the region. Naturally, every country in the region makes claims to portions of SCS. Typically, these claims are governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which entitles a state to 12-nautical-mile territorial sea and 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) within which a state has right to exploit resources; and in some cases allows for keeping of historically controlled waters. The largest of the claims is the Chinese one, covering about 90 % of the SCS’s area, enclosed within a so called Nine Dash Line, which is at odds with the other state’s claims (e.g. Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, or Taiwan). To reinforce her claims, China has engaged in artificial island building on several SCS features in Spratleys*.

As China possesses by far the most powerful navy in the region of Southeast Asia, other claimants can rely only on military alliances or extra-military means when countering China. Choosing the second, the Philippines have initiated proceeding against China at the PCA in 2013. Under UNCLOS, to which both China and the Philippines are a party, it is the PCA (among others) that is tasked with adjudicating any dispute that may arise from the treaty. In its claim, the Philippines challenged the validity of the Nine Dash Line. The central question of the case was not the one of sovereignty over the SCS features, but rather their very nature. Simply put, the Philippines asked the court to rule whether the features are islands (generating EEZ), or some other kind of feature (generating a territorial sea at best).

This seemingly straightforward case was not without controversies. After the case was filed, China refused to participate in the proceedings. On top of this, in a widely circulated position paper, China challenged the jurisdiction of PCA, stating that the case was essentially about sovereignty which falls outside the scope of UNCLOS and in turn within PCA’s jurisdiction. One of the basic principles of procedural law and law of Arbitration is the “competence-competence” principle, meaning that only the tribunal itself can decide whether it has competence (jurisdiction) to hear a case or not. Bearing this in mind, the PCA found that it indeed can hear the case and proceeded with adjudication of the merits of the case.

The final awards that were delivered by PCA essentially dispelled the Chinese claims, when it found that there is no historical basis for the Nine Dash Line and that the SCS features are not islands as per UNCLOS.

This begs to ask what the implications of this ruling will be? China has already stated it will not abide by the court’s judgement as in their view it is “null and void”. This is no surprise, as China is doing precisely what other big powers did in the past (the US withdrawal from the International Court of Justice obligatory jurisdiction following the Nicaragua case comes to mind, or ignoring the Avena case ruling of the same court).

Nevertheless, by ignoring the PCA’s ruling China is breaching international law, a binding treaty that China voluntarily signed up for and even played a big role in its drafting. According to the theory of credible commitments, states sign treaties when they anticipate that they will not violate such a treaty in the future. A breach would be viewed by other countries as a broken promise, leading to loss of credibility and reputation, making future negotiating harder as others simply will not trust a country that already broke its promises.

Secondly, China’s neighbors will view the purported “peaceful rise of China” thesis with increased skepticism. Coupled with increasing Chinese militarization, the smaller states won’t have much choice but to reinforce their alliances with the US in order to hedge against China.

Thirdly, the judgement could be viewed inside China as another attempt by the West to encroach on China and her rights. Chinese Communist Party has created elaborate narratives aimed at domestic audiences about how China has a historical claim to waters and resources of SCS. In this sense, having a court seated in Netherlands deny this right is in essence denying Chinese their “birthright.” This is further reinforced when looked at through the prism of Century of Humiliation, a period during which European powers essentially occupied parts of China. As a result, occurrence of anti-Western protests in China would not be of much surprise.

Overall, this can put China into an increasingly isolated position, in which it might be willing to take more daring unilateral actions to assert itself as a big power. The worst case scenario, an open military conflict, however, seems unlikely, as it would harm international trade on which Chinese economy largely depends. Post hoc compliance is also unlikely as it would undermine the position of communist leaders at home.

At best we can hope for a fragile status quo. In this scenario, China will cease carrying out the most provocative actions in SCS, such as island building, and will implicitly comply with (parts of) the PCA’s judgement, while maintaining the domestic position that SCS is rightfully Chinese.

Only time will prove these predictions right or wrong. One thing is sure though – interesting times are ahead of us to follow international politics in Southeast Asia.


* An earlier version of this article claimed that China engaged in artificial island building on the Paracels as well. This not the case.