Beijing: Chinese official media and think- tanks are worried over a possible “domino effect” with surge in claims by other countries to press for their share of the South China Sea, a day after a UN-backed tribunal dealt a major blow to China’s claims over the disputed maritime area. While the verdict striking down China’s historic claims evoked strong comments in the editorials, the sweeping judgement of the tribunal appointed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration made official think-tanks to predict worst case scenarios.
Jin Canrong, deputy director of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University of China, said the most important task for China at the moment is to prevent a “domino effect” among claimant states such as Vietnam in the South China Sea (SCS).
“In other words, China should prevent other countries from following the Philippines,” he told state-run Global Times.
In order to prevent a “domino effect,” China has several options. For example, it should prepare for a potential military conflict by continuing to conduct military drills in the SCS, Beijing-based military expert Song Zhongping was quoted as saying by the paper known for its nationalistic views.
This tough approach can send a message to other countries that suing China at The Hague’s “illegal tribunal” will only lead to a tougher response from Beijing, Song said, adding that tensions in the disputed waters will rise, and China should prepare for the worst.
“China must be prepared to reduce the fallout of the arbitration case with other claimant countries,” said Gu Xiaosong, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences. Experts agreed that among the other claimant countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, Hanoi will most likely challenge China’s maritime territories.
“Vietnam occupies the biggest number of islands or islets in the South China Sea and has the biggest area of overlapping maritime claims with China,” Gu said. “With strong nationalistic sentiment, Vietnam is unlikely to back off on its claims,” Gu noted.
Ei Sun Oh, principal adviser of Malaysia-based think-tank Pacific Research Centre, also said that he does not rule out the possibility of Vietnam seeking a similar arbitration, emboldened by the favourable ruling the Philippines received.
Pan Guoping, an international law expert at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law, said that since UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that any decision rendered by a court or tribunal having jurisdiction under this section shall be final and shall be complied with by all the parties to the dispute, China can consider leaving UNCLOS to maintain its rights and claims to the SCS.
If China still remains in UNCLOS, China faces a dilemma between respecting UNCLOS and protecting the legality of China’s sovereignty claims in the SCS, Pan said.