An international court in Hague ruled on Tuesday that Beijing has no historical rights over most of South China sea, denying China’s claims of sovereignty in the region. The ruling has dealt a major blow to China’s intention to control the resource rich waters, and has profound implications for China’s maritime ambitions.
The ruling has sparked a strong sense of nationalism among Chinese people, who strongly support their government position to reject the ruling, claiming that China’s territory sovereignty and maritime rights in the seas are not affected by it. Comments in condemning the ruling has flooded social media.
“We don’t recognize the authority of the international court in Hague! Its decision is nothing more than a piece of garbage!”
Since April 2012, when Chinese surveillance ships blocked the Philippian authorities’ attempt to arrest Chinese fishing vessels in the Scarborough Shoal, the area has been the flashpoint of a territory dispute in the South China Sea between the two countries.
About two years ago, China strengthened its claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea – from oil exploration to fishing rights. Since then Chinese warships, armed with water cannons and assault rifles relentlessly conducted aggressive maneuvers in the Scarborough, trying to block any Philippines’ fishing boats from entering the shoal.
Philippines fishing boats detected by Chinese authorities faced a grim fate –their crews were beaten by Chinese officers, fishing lines were cut and their catches were seized. A Times’ reporter who took a trip to the shoal with a Filipino fishing boat, gives a first hand account of the fishermen’s fear by the Chinese military presence in the shoal.
When their fishing boat was spotted by 1000-ton Chinese coast guard trawler, it purposely generated large waves by pulling within 100 feet of the fishing boat, and demanded immediate retreat through a loud radio speaker. Terrified, the captain ordered the boat to turn around immediately.
“We don’t want to get shot,” he said.
In fact, China’s rising economic power has led to an increase in bullying practices by the Chinese government on both domestic and international fronts. As it flexed its military muscles to intimate the powerless and vulnerable Philippian fishermen, it has launched domestic crackdowns on political dissidents – from religious believers to human rights activists to Hong Kong booksellers.
Enforcing unjust and repressive laws, the Chinese government has started pervasive propaganda and censorship and suppression of media freedom. Since 2012, it has cracked down on religious groups and destroyed crosses on church buildings. In July last year, over 300 lawyers, associates and relatives were jailed, disappeared and subjected to constant political surveillance.
It has launched the most ruthless crackdown on dissidents that go beyond Mainland China. Hong Kong book store sellers who sold books critical of Chinese leaders, were abducted from Thailand and elsewhere and forced to make TV confessions, a practice used during the Cultural Revolution.
The Chinese government must learn to negotiate under due legal process when settling territorial disputes with its neighbors, and not adopt a colonial and imperialist attitude. If China wants to continue to be a forefront on the international stage, it must move past using military might and bloodshed to solve its problems.
China’s economic miracle has given it the military power to adopt an aggressive posture towards its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. However, bullying is an abuse of that power that can cause tremendous harm to innocent civilians. In the face of a bully, we need to stand up and hold them accountable, rather than cheering its tyranny and hailing itsdomination. Failing to do so, we will put ourselves under a greater risk of being bullied and becoming the next victim.
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