South China Sea verdict: When nationalism clashes with internationalism

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The verdict given by an international court scrapping China's exclusive claims to the sovereignty over the South China Sea and Beijing's subsequent rejection of the judgment shows when it comes to clash between internationalism and nationalism, it is the latter which prevails.

China has moved very fast in consolidating its claims on the waves of the South China Sea and cared little for its small maritime neighbours. It has built military bases and even artificial islands to make the sea its own territory and the aggression has seen its disputes with countries like the Philippines (the latest verdict favoured this country) and Vietnam and even minor skirmishes and naval standoffs. [If India has to sign NPT to enter NSG, China must also abide by sea law to remain in UNCLOS]

south china sea

The South China Sea issue went to a point of no return

The conflict between China's own national ambitions and the international law was bound to happen soon since Beijing had taken the matter to a point of no return. There are a number of aspects to Beijing's escalating the South China Sea issue which finally brought it in conflict with the international law.

China's claims over South China Sea are consistent with the Jinping leadership's pursuing "Chinese Dream"

China sets its eyes firm on the South China Sea not only to control the natural resources beneath the sea/ocean floor but also because it gives the former a chance to establish its position at par with a super power like the United States and address matters of what experts say "historical grievances". The aim to secure busy sea lanes to boost its security and flex the muscle on the international stage is not inconsistent with the current Chinese leadership's call for the "Chinese Dream".

Chinese President Xi Jinping is considered the most powerful leader of that country since Mao Ze Dong who emphasises on a prosperous society coupled with a national rejuvenation. In fact, the Chinese today are echoing the sentiments of the American leaders of the 19th and 20th centuries when Washington promoted isolationist policies that eventually paved the way for hegemonic tendencies abroad.

China echoes the American isolationist thoughts of the 19th and early 20th centuries

Be it the Monroe Doctrine (1823) of the then US president James Monroe or the "Big Brother policy (1880s) of former secretary of state James G Blaine or Roosevelt Corollary (1904) of another former American president Theodore Roosevelt, the US had in the past showed similar tendencies to curb the influence of the Europeans to make its own strategic space.

All great powers have violated international law which is weak against sovereign states

During the inter-war period between 1918 and 1939, too, the hyper-aggressive nationalism of Nazi Germany saw the second big war despite the presence of an international body called the League of Nations. During the Cold War, too, the erstwhile Soviet Union had made inroads into a number of countries while the US cared little for the United Nations and the international law to invade Iraq in 2003.

In 1986, Washington ignored the International Court of Justice which said the American mining of the harbours in Nicaragua in Central America as illegal. The US had not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and is yet to do it. Great Britain, too, defied an international verdict that said the former's proposed marine reserve in the Indian Ocean would violate the fishing rights of the people of Mauritius.

There is, in fact, a similarity between China's expansionist designs in the Asia-Pacific with the USA's past actions in the Americas where it sought to dominate and intervened in various smaller states to plant friendly governments. No international law could ever dissuade it once it decided to go after its diplomatic manipulation.

South China Sea verdict is likely to see more conflict than cooperation in the region

Hence, no matter what the world says against the Chinese for trying to make the South China Sea its own 'blue soil', there is very little force to make Beijing comply for internationalism has little binding on national governments. There is world government to make the states behave. On the contrary, the latest ruling on the South China Sea will see confrontation and conflict between Beijing and its adversaries only intensify.

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