South China Sea Conundrum: A Worldwide Game of Power Equations
A case brought by US ally, the Philippines against China represents a diplomatic dilemma for far-flung nations. Ahead of a ruling on Tuesday, Washington and Beijing have rallied support for their respective positions on the use of international arbitration in South China Sea disputes.
The United States has been building diplomatic pressure in the West and in Asia on China to abide by the decision by a tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
China, which maintains it won’t be bound by the ruling, has been pushing back by building support from nations mostly in Africa and the Mideast.
The US is not a party to the South China Sea territorial disputes, nor to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, under which the tribunal has been formed, but says it wants China to play by international rules.
Since there is no enforcement mechanism for the ruling, any impact will depend on how the international community reacts.
Here’s a look at where dozens of countries stand:
ASEAN’s Stand on the Issue
ASEAN has been trying for years to achieve diplomatic solutions in the South China Sea, making little progress and exposing divisions in the 10-member bloc, which includes the Philippines. It is unlikely to reach consensus on the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling.
When President Barack Obama met ASEAN leaders in February, they agreed on “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes” in accordance with the UN convention.
But Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said in late June that he opposes any ASEAN declaration to support the tribunal’s decision and efforts by countries outside the region “to mobilize forces against China.”
Vietnam, which has fought China over competing South China Sea claims, has been most supportive of the Philippines’ case and submitted a statement to the tribunal.
But other ASEAN nations are generally wary of speaking out for fear of alienating China, the region’s economic heavyweight. Malaysia and Brunei have said little about the case, though they too are South China Sea claimants.
Indonesia and Singapore are not claimants but have been a bit more outspoken.
Russia Supports Beijing
Moscow, which shares China’s suspicion of Washington, is Beijing’s most prominent supporter on the issue. On a visit to China in April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia is against any interference from outside parties in the South China Sea.
China further enjoys support from African and Middle Eastern Countries. Its state media has reported that about 60 countries have expressed support for China’s stance on the arbitration case.
The Foreign Ministry has in recent weeks given prominent mention to the support it claims to have from nations principally in Africa, the Mideast and Central Asia.
European Union and G-7
The EU has urged all South China Sea claimants to resolve disputes through peaceful means and “pursue them in accordance with international law,” including the U.N. convention.
The Group of seven wealthy nations, which comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and the EU, has called on all states to fully implement decisions binding on them in courts and tribunals provided under the convention.
What Does India Have to Say?
India shares US’ concerns about Beijing’s rising ambitions in the South China sea.
India’s External Affairs Ministry has said that all countries must abide by international law and norms on maritime issues.
India set an example in 2014 when it accepted a decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that ruled in favor of Bangladesh in a dispute over the countries’ maritime boundary.
It’s all About Oil for Japan and South Korea
Japan says both China and the Philippines should abide by the arbitration court’s ruling. Japan sees the move not only as upholding international law, but it also comes from the concern that historic rival China seeks strategic control of vital sea lanes in the South China Sea that carry 80 percent of Japan’s crude oil imports.
However, South Korea which is also heavily dependent on fuel imports that pass through the South China Sea, has been less inclined to speak out as it has closer ties with China.
(This article has been published in arrangement with AP)