China must follow the rule of law — in word and deed



WORLD events these past 10 days show that diplomacy, and the rule of international law among sovereign nations, based on realities to prevent another world war, works. And that the United Nations can be an effective forum for global peace.

I refer to international wire agencies report that the UN Security Council—which includes Russia and China—unanimously and strongly condemnedNorth Korea’s latest ballistic missiles test firings as “highly destabilizing behavior.” (Its test-firing two weeks ago failed as the missile reportedly exploded on take-off, leaving dictator Kim Jong-un red-faced.)

The news was buried deep in the inside pages of Manila’s major newspapers. It is a safe bet the news was banned in North Korea where Kim has complete mind control of his people.

The Council’s US-drafted statement said North Korea’s missile launches are “illegal missile activities,” a violation of the international agreement on the limitation of nuclear weapons proliferation, and were “greatly increasing tension in the region and beyond.”

Further, it said the Council would “take further significant measures, including sanctions” against the Pyongyang regime. It was approved unanimously after Russia’s insistence that peaceful settlement of the issue must be “through dialogue”was inserted.

The Council’s action could be applicable—should the conditions worsen some more because of Beijing’s continuous refusal to recognize international law—to the case of the South China Sea dispute between China, Taiwan and Asean members Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

China and the four Asean members are sovereign nations which signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that gives sovereign nations the right to explore, develop and benefit from the development of the marine areas as far as 200 nautical miles from their shorelines. Taiwan, because of the one-China policy adopted by most UN members is considered a province of China but is actually autonomous with its own government. Taiwan has a population that is mostly for independence from Beijing.

Beijing has built military bases and communication installations in seven of the Spratly islets and reefs with overlapping claims and is suspected to be constructing missile silos there. And there havebeen bloody encounters between Vietnam and China in Vietnamese waters off China’s Hainan island.

To those unfamiliar with recent history, the Chinese towed one of its oil rigs into Vietnaese territory under naval escorts. Before that, Chinese ships sank Vietnamese fishing boats and let the fishermen drown, causing irate Vietnamese protesters to set fire to residences and shops in Hanoi’s Chinatown.

Chinese coastal guard ships have also harassed Filipino fishermen in the Pag-Asa atoll in the Spratlys and driven them off with power water hoses from the Scarbourgh Shoal, claimed by both China and the Philippines but lies well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).. The China-Philippine dispute in the South China Sea quieted down only after President Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot to China and “unfriendly” satementsdircected at President Barack Obama in the second half of last years.

The Chinese military radio sentry in the Subi atoll of the Spratlys even warned Defense Secretary DelfinLorenzana and the media group of about 40 people accompanying him that their C-130 plane was “in Chinese territory” and to “leave immediately.”

Lorenzana and his party were inspecting Pag-Asa (internationally known as Thitu in the Spratlys, and within sight of Subi) to see what improvements need to be constructed to make it a tourist destination. From the published pictures, at least seven Chinese naval or coast guard ships were closely watching Lorenzana’s party from a few kilometers away.

The Pag-Asa runway has to be extended, tourist facilities must be built, potable water has to be made available. Investments have to be pumped in before tourists will even consider going there.

Pag-Asa is within the 200-nautical mile UNCLOS-recognized EEZ of the Philippines. The island that Beijing also claims is well beyond 200 miles from he nearest Chinese land mass.

Effectively, China is declaring that there is no international waterway in most parts of the South China Sea and no civilian or military vessels may have navigational safety without Beijing’s permission.

That Chinese position/policy on the South China Sea is surely going to be a sore point in China’s relations with all its Asia-Pacific neighbors, including the US, and even Russia.

The $5 trillion worth of annual trade that plies the South China Sea—including Chinese manufactured products bound for the Middle East, Africa and Europevia the Strait of Malacca—could be jeopardized unless China follows international law.

The days of the 18thcentury’s gunboat diplomacy went out with the Vietnam War’s end in April, 1975.

Today in a world shrunk by technological advances in information, communication and new inventions for cost-effective manufacturing and production, the environmental and biodiversity must be factored in for the survival of the human race.

Peaceful and productive co-existence under the rule of law among nations, and economic cooperation (under friendly competition), will become more pronounced as the world population, as predicted, increases to 10 billion in 2050.

(Reactions and comments to Gil H. A. Santos is president of the Center for Philippine Futuristics Studies and Management, and teaches journalism and geopolitics at the Lyceum of the Philippines University.)


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