Tuesday, July 12, 2016

PCA, the law of the sea and the battle for the South China Sea

This map from the BBC sets out China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. Now the Permanent Court for Arbitration has ruled following a case brought by the Philippines against China that China's claims to historic rights were contrary to UN convention.

The ruling came from an arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both countries have signed.

The ruling is binding but the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no powers of enforcement.

Very few Australians, I think, have been following the battle for control in the South China Sea even though Australian military aircraft have been involved in the challenge to China's claims to sovereignty.

That's a pity, because this is arguably the most dangerous of Australia's current foreign policy challenges because of the risk of a major war.


I'm not sure that I agree with this Chatham House interpretation.  


2 tanners said...

Agree or otherwise, interesting to compare the Chinese attitude to the Australian one in relation to the Timor Gap.

In my view, both have certain antiquated notions about them.

Jim Belshaw said...

I was going to comment on this one 2t, then decided to get the facts from you as you saw them. I know this is an issue you feel strongly about.

2 tanners said...

I think a number of parties have failed to take an open opportunity to cheaply assist development in Timor. In a perfect world, one party would have sacrificed a large percentage of its claim and another party would have moved to allow commercially realistic exploitation, each recognising the contribution of the other. At the moment, damage is being done everywhere and I see only one winner, who is neither involved nor cares about the dispute.

Others will have different views and I am not pretending to inside information nor international legal expertise. But now the parties are locked into mutually antagonistic stances from which it will be impossible to withdraw without losing face but maintaining which also costs face and money. The realpolitik of this could have been much better.

2 tanners said...

Just after I posted, the following fairly emotive press release hit my inbox. It sets out one side of the story:

South China Sea ruling puts spotlight on Australia’s untenable position in the Timor Sea

The response from Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, to the ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration against China highlights a central contradiction in Australia’s foreign policy.

The Timor Sea Justice Campaign’s spokesperson, Tom Clarke, said whilst well intentioned, the Australian Government’s calls for China to respect international law would continue to ring hollow while Australia itself was failing to abide by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The Australian Government has turned it’s back on the independent umpire so it can short-change East Timor out of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue,” said Mr Clarke.

Due to the Australian Government’s refusal to establish permanent maritime boundaries with East Timor, the tiny nation has taken the dispute for ‘compulsory conciliation’ at the United Nations the first time this particular process has ever been initiated.

“If Australia wants China to stop being a regional bully and to respect international law, than we need to look at our own behavior towards East Timor and start playing by the rulebook ourselves. Ignoring the independent umpire so we can short-change one of the poorest country in Asia is pretty shameful,” said Mr Clarke.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's interesting. Mr Clarke may be on strong moral grounds, but not legal ones. East Timor seems to have breached its treaty obligations https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_on_Certain_Maritime_Arrangements_in_the_Timor_Sea. Will dig in a bit more on this one in due course.

2 tanners said...

Check here. http://www.laohamutuk.org/Oil/Boundary/CMATSindex.htm

La'o Hamutuk ("Walk together") is known for its objectivity. It is sometimes seen as quite a gadfly by the Timorese Government.

The article is quite long but sets out a lot of the detail. It's true that Timor can't renegotiate under the treaty, but has had the right to unilaterally end the treaty under its provisions since 2013.