The View From Asia

The South China Sea ruling and the struggle for peace

The ruling by the arbitral tribunal at The Hague on the Philippines' case against China's maritime claims has stirred ripples of concern within and between countries, leading observers to call for rational thinking and proactive initiatives to keep the peace. Here are excerpts of some of these perspectives in Asia News Network papers:

Wrong targeting

Xin Zhiming
China Daily, China

United States and Philippine businesses and products - including American fast food chain KFC, Apple's iPhones and dried mangoes from the Philippines - have become the targets of online calls for mass boycotts since the arbitral tribunal's ruling in the case initiated by Manila against Beijing over the South China Sea dispute.

The boycott calls are reminiscent of the mass protests in 2012, when China-Japan relations soured because of their dispute over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. During the protests, Mr Li Jianli, the driver of a Toyota car in Xi'an in Shaanxi province, was hit by a young protester on the head and became paralysed on the right side of his body.

Although no violence was involved in the KFC incident, the rising clamour to boycott products from the US, the Philippines, Japan and the Republic of Korea (for its decision to deploy America's Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system, which poses a threat to China's national security) is worrisome. And if this goes unchecked, there could be unexpected outcomes that, like the protests in 2012, cause serious social and personal damage.

After China launched its reform and opening-up more than three decades ago, large numbers of foreign enterprises invested in the country, and helped boost its economic growth and create jobs for the local people. China today is the world's second-largest economy.

No doubt, foreign-funded companies should not be exempt from punishment if they violate Chinese laws and regulations.

But the normal operation of law-abiding foreign companies should be protected. Moreover, it is well-known that many of the foreign-funded enterprises in China, such as KFC, have been localised and mostly employ local people and purchase raw materials from China. So by boycotting them, we would compromise the livelihoods of many Chinese.

Manila can set the tone

Dindo Manhit
Philippine Daily Inquirer,
Philippines

Now that the (tribunal) has released its decision on the case lodged by the Philippines against China, the Philippines should set the tone of what is to follow.

The next few months could be tense. There is no getting away from the fact that this will be a period to navigate with extra care. One next step would be to discuss the situation at the Asean Foreign Ministers' meeting, and for Asean to come up with a strong and unified stance highlighting the importance of countries abstaining from coercion. Similarly of impact would be having the South-east Asian claimants discuss possible paths to the final resolution of the disputes.

When it comes to the long term, a favourable outcome from the arbitral tribunal will not serve as a silver bullet in relation to the disputes in the South China Sea. If there are no violent retributions, the stage will be set for the Philippines and other claimants to talk more closely about how and when to enter negotiations.

Through diplomacy, the Philippines can reassure China that all countries will be treated as equal partners in the talks. In the long term, cultivating friendly but equal relations with China will be good for the country.

A struggle for dignity

Editorial
The China Post, Taiwan

It is heartening to see the nation rally together in the light of the arbitral tribunal's ruling on the South China Sea dispute. Politicians from across the political spectrum have rightly come out to reject the decision in which Taiwan was denied any kind of participation - and one that does not even abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (Unclos).

But beyond a flat rejection, our ruling and opposition parties need to pool their efforts more extensively to ensure that the decision will not diminish or downgrade territorial sovereignty in any way, shape or form. This includes a protracted legal battle to de-legitimise the decision and a series of substantive actions to strengthen Taiwan's historical claims in the region.

Even as the international press frames this issue as a struggle between two hegemonic powers (China and the United States), larger implications are at play here. The ruling has the potential to destabilise the Asia-Pacific region.

The fight to uphold the status of Taiping Island (also known as Itu Aba) as constituting an island as stipulated in Unclos Article 121 Paragraph 3 is not self-serving: Without legal struggles, more disputes over the status of islands are bound to proliferate.

If Taiping, which sustains life and provides enough fresh water for 1,500 people, is not an island, what of the Japan-controlled Okinotori atoll? Or the US-controlled Baker "island"? None of these "islands" have fresh water; nor do they support human habitation. Why are they entitled to exclusive economic zones?

Taiwan must step up to the plate and refute the erroneous interpretation of what constitutes an island, lest it become a dangerous legal precedent.

Bolster Japan-India security tie-up Editorial The Japan News, Japan

China's active expansion of its maritime presence is a matter of concern to Japan and India.

We want to see Japan-India cooperation in maritime security steadily bolstered.

Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani has visited India and conferred with his Indian counterpart, Mr Manohar Parrikar. During their meeting, the two ministers agreed to call on China to resolve disputes peacefully based on international law.

The South China Sea represents an important marine transport route for both Japan and India. During their meeting, Mr Nakatani and Mr Parrikar agreed to start maritime strategy discussions. It will be significant for the two countries to exchange information and opinions, and to make an overall analysis of the Chinese military's maritime activities.

  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 21 newspapers.
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2016, with the headline 'The South China Sea ruling and the struggle for peace'. Print Edition | Subscribe