South China Sea ruling was aimed at easing tension – but may just stoke conflict

Simon Tisdall writes: By taking its case to the UN’s arbitration court in The Hague, the Philippines government hoped to find a peaceful, internationally acceptable solution to its long-running maritime dispute with China, its vastly more powerful neighbour. But Tuesday’s ruling, largely backing Manila and rejecting Beijing’s claims to exclusive control of large parts of the South China Sea, may do the exact opposite, stoking regional tensions, drawing in the US and Japan, and increasing the risk of armed confrontation.

The possible trigger for such an escalation is China’s refusal to accept the authority and jurisdiction of the UN court, and its instant rejection of its findings, despite the fact Beijing is a signatory of the UN’s convention on the law of the sea, which the court oversees, and is a permanent member of the UN security council. This attempt by Beijing to cherry-pick which treaties and rules it follows poses a significant challenge to the supremacy of international law and the UN system, of which it, in theory, is a key guardian. Its supporters will argue it is only following the US example.

That Chinese officials and state media pre-empted the court ruling over a period of months before the verdict, disparaging the court and proclaiming its proceedings null and void, suggests a disturbing new doctrine of Chinese exceptionalism may be emerging under the muscular tutelage of Xi Jinping, China’s authoritarian president. The irony should not be lost on the US, which justified its 20th-century global expansion in terms of exceptionalism and now finds itself on the receiving end. [Continue reading…]

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