CHINA will be hosting the meeting between the 10 Asean heads of state and government and Beijing’s President Xi Jinping. Our diplomatic sources say it will be on May 18 to 20 in a “new city northwest of Beijing” because the Chinese have not announced the date and site yet for security reasons, obviously, as they often do for such top diplomatic gatherings.
The agenda is the final framework of the Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea (SCS) which has dragged on for the past 15 years while Beijing had—sans any announcements or notification to its Southeast Asian neighbors—built military installations on the seven atolls and reefs in what is known as the Spratly Islands over the last 10 years, or probably more.
This involves two direct violations of formal agreements: 1) of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that Beijing had signed—and is recognized by the United Nations members; and 2) of the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC) on the South China Sea that it signed with the Asean 10.
For young students of contemporary geopolitics, the UNCLOS became a problem for China because its monolithic regime under the Communist Party’s central committee enforced, with its naval might, Beijing’s territorial claim to almost all of the South China Sea.
This so-called 9-dash line claim was first initiated by the US-supported Nationalist regime of the late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in 1947 when he was still struggling during the Chinese civil war for control of China against the communists led by Mao Zedong.
The UNCLOS recognizes up to 200 nautical miles from the nearest shoreline of a sovereign state, an exclusive economic zone (EEZ), to explore, exploit and develop and benefit from those efforts—and the whole community of sovereign nations in the UN recognize that. Except for China now.
The DOC stipulates that the signatories will not build any military installations in the SCS and will prevent the nuclearization of the area; furthermore, the signatories will guarantee the freedom of navigation and commercial shipping in the SCS. More than five trillion dollars worth of trade ply through that waterway.
China’s current leadership has obviously deliberately violated the agreements for its own reasons. Let me offer some wild (some call it educated) guesses:
Its perception that the US is out to extend its military might from the military bases in Hawaii, Guam, the Marianas Islands, Japan and South Korea into the SCS to put pressure on Beijing’s economic progress, now recognized as the world’s second biggest economy, next only to the US.
Its own goal to replace the US as the top world hegemon because it believes the end of the US domination of the world economy for the last two centuries is ending in this 21st century.
Its own belief that only the combination of a strong rule, laced with the citizens’ fear of the regime and the military, and the democracies’ freedom of commerce and the international law of supply and demand can successfully beat their economic competitors—as China has shown in the last 30 years.
Its own aggressive stance claiming almost the entire SCS regardless of international opinion.
Its own belief, as history has shown, that the United Nations has no law enforcement agency strong enough to compel sovereign states to follow the rule of law (provided you do not militarily invade another country’s territory.
Its own mindset that he who rules the seas, air and the communications systems, rules the world in this century.
Other analysts can offer more.
What exactly will China ram through the Asean 10?
This is a logical question now that clearly in the just concluded 30th Asean Summit in Manila, all the 10 are convinced of the hard realities of geopolitics. There will always be economic competition among all nations and people on this shrinking planet whose population is predicted by the UN to grow to about 10 billion by 2050.
And scientific and technological advances in energy, communications, manufacturing, industries, education and services will be dominating industrial production and productivity. We can expect friendlier—but deadlier—competition because the weak will most likely remain dominated by the “friendly” persuader.
In fact, it should be noted that China has started to copy the methods of “persuasion” that the British used to overcome other European colonial powers from the 18th century until the Americans replaced them in the late 19th to 20th centuries. Now China believes its time has come to rule the world.
In the context of realities, nobody among the top 10 economic powers of this planet want–nor need—a third world war. But we do not know about the current unpredictable young madman of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.
It will not be illogical to expect the Asean leaders in their summit meeting with Xi later this month to demand that Beijing rein in Kim and his nuclear ambitions.
In that context, China must show with concrete accomplishment its sincerity; that it is ready to cooperate with the Asean members individually and as an economic bloc for peace, cooperation with all, and political and military stability in the Asia Pacific region. Mere diplomacy and promises will not cut it!