No Hugo Award for Beijing

Interesting article in the Diplomat about China’s latest ‘standard map’, showing claims to various other countries’ territory, including the famous ‘9 (or 10) dash line’. Does that line symbolize a claim to just the islands/islets in that part of the ocean? Countries can have sovereignty over islands that are distant and/or closer to other countries (UK Channel Islands/Falklands, French overseas territories, Greek islands just off Turkish coast, etc). Or does it symbolize a claim to all the waters as well as land features within the lines? That would blatantly contradict international law and principles (Grotius, 1609). 

Beijing has never explicitly answered that question, but it has more or less given its people the impression that their country can and does own that entire chunk of the ocean. It is in a tight spot…

Our research suggests that, since 2016, China has been trying to walk a tightrope between domestic pressures not to yield on widely and sincerely held (if insupportable) beliefs about China’s rights in the South China Sea on the one hand, and international pressures to comply with international law (including its own commitments under UNCLOS) on the other. The result is a policy that we call “stealthy compliance,” in which China seeks not to be seen as in technical violation of the UNCLOS Arbitration Tribunal ruling without acknowledging its legitimacy. 

The new standard map and the Chinese government’s response to criticism of it are both fully consistent with this playbook. They are inconsistent with a robust defense of “maximalist” maritime claims, which is clearly the dominant interpretation.

Whether stealthy compliance is sustainable for long remains to be seen. Its success depends crucially on other countries not doing things that would make it obvious to the Chinese public that China does not have the sovereign rights in the South China Sea that they thought it had. If the strident international reaction to a mere map is anything to go by, the forbearance of rival claimants may be running out.

Of course, most Southeast Asian countries reject China’s claims to the Paracel and – particularly – Spratly features, let alone the whole sea. So a Chinese ‘climbdown’ from the maximalist position (and Beijing would still insist on 200-mile economic zones around every little speck) wouldn’t resolve much internationally.

(I’m currently advising/encouraging a college-bound nephew about what courses to take in his first semester as an international relations major. Hence Grotius springs to mind.)

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3 Responses to No Hugo Award for Beijing

  1. Nite Lyfe says:

    I hope you are advising your nephew to study in Hong Kong. According to today’s news, it’s the place to be for bare-assed boxing and these university orientation camps make the swinging ’60s look like an old-fashioned nunnery.

    Given the declining birth rate and the shrinking population in toto, the Hong Kong Government must promote as much casual unprotected sex as possible: on buses, in offices, and especially in university dorms and other places young people gather.

    Those sad “O-Nites” must be renamed Shag Nights and all “Inaugural Tea Gatherings” must become topless poke and vomit parties. Ban condoms and promote the Roman Catholic church instead of frowning on it. Every sperm is sacred. Our former Bonk for Britain must become Copulate for China. You know it makes sense.

  2. Justsayin says:

    Your nephew needs to study Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue, the basis of IR theory and a great explainer of the PRC’s behaviour internationally

  3. Mary Melville says:

    Reports and images online of extensive flooding all over the city. Perhaps HK might finally take global warming seriously and devote a fraction of the resources being squandered on NS to essential infrastructure upgrades????

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