To rein in backlash from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China has agreed to hold negotiations on international rules. But it seems to be making a self-centered effort to render any agreement toothless.
In a bid to work out a code of conduct to prevent any conflict in the South China Sea, China has agreed with ASEAN to hold formal negotiations among high-ranking officials with the aim of reaching a framework agreement by the middle of next year.
China had been cautious about the establishment of such a code. But Beijing has likely changed its tack based on the belief that international criticism would be directed toward it during a meeting of Group of 20 major economies to be chaired by China early next month.
However, it cannot be overlooked that China has expressed its intention of not taking up the South China Sea issue during the G-20 meeting. It has become all the more important for leaders of participating countries to discuss the matter.
A code of conduct would legally restrict the actions of China, the Philippines and other countries involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Such a code is supposed to incorporate respect for the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and the establishment of a system to oversee the behaviour of the countries concerned.
But the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to have the intention of weakening the binding power of a code of conduct as much as possible in the process of forthcoming negotiations with ASEAN countries so that its moves to militarize man-made islands will not be restricted.
Intl pressure vital
China has not accepted an international court ruling in July that wholly denied China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, dismissing the ruling as a “piece of wastepaper.” It is impossible to think that China, which disregards international law, can fulfill its responsibilities in working out international rules.
Japan and the United States, in cooperation with the likes of ASEAN member countries and Australia, must ramp up pressure on Beijing as much as possible to make the planned code of conduct practically effective
Problematic in this respect is that China has emphasized “the need to prevent outside intervention” in South China Sea affairs, thus clarifying its stance of excluding Japan and the United States.
China has recently been accelerating moves to strengthen its effective control in the Spratly Islands and elsewhere.
Analysis released by a U.S. policy research institute this month says that China has been pushing ahead with the construction of hangars capable of accommodating such aircraft as fighter jets and airborne early warning and control systems (AWACS) planes on artificial islands it has built.
The Chinese military has also been conducting patrol flights of its new bomber over areas near the Scarborough Shoal close to the Philippines.
These moves represent nothing but China’s expansionist attempt to bring under control by large military power almost all of the South China Sea, while turning its back on the principle of the rule of law.
To ensure stability in the South China Sea, it is indispensable that the United States continues seaborne and airborne surveillance activities to secure “freedom of navigation and flight,” as well as to establish a monitoring system with other countries concerned.