The Communist Party’s agitprop operatives have been busy stoking public indignation over the South China Sea arbitration ruling last week.
But don’t think the Chinese people, while condemning the “farce authored by the United States and performed by its lackeys”, will dare to point out Beijing’s own mistakes or reflect on who really should be held responsible.
Just as the official line goes, this is all the fault of our enemies.
The senior cadres in charge of foreign affairs have thus absolved themselves of any blame.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) should have been sacked for his silly decision to boycott the arbitration hearings from the outset.
He insisted: “There was no point joining an unjust ruling.”
There was an obvious abdication of responsibility when Wang and his subordinates at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sat idly by and shunned an international arbitration which has led to more diplomatic containment.
But as always, Wang won’t have to lose any sleep over his job. As seen in numerous past cases, senior party cadres are seldom stripped of their posts for mistakes or misconduct.
Even if he’s asked to step down, before long he may take up an even higher position after the public outcry dissipates.
Only factional strife within the party can ease out officials if they belong to the vanquished clique.
And the inconvenient truth that Beijing may be trying to conceal is that it cannot present convincing evidence to support its self-proclaimed historic rights to many of the disputed islets and reefs, and that, quite the opposite, it’s worried that the Philippines and other claimants have more plausible historical proofs to disavow Beijing’s rhetoric and make a case for their own.
There are those who now say that China can just laugh off the verdict as “we have muscle” to ignore it.
They are making a fool of themselves if they sincerely believe the Chinese army is in the same league as the Western powers, not to mention the fact that the military has long been rotten to the core and a war may easily crush it.
Another question is, is it possible to reverse the verdict?
Possible, though exceptionally difficult.
The International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) both have established procedures concerning the withdrawal of a previous ruling, only if there is some irrefutable new factual evidence – which must be unknown throughout the process of arbitration – that can disprove a former resolution.
And there is a prerequisite: the party seeking to overturn an adjudication, almost in all cases the losing party, must respect and comply with the court decision in the first place.
Beijing has articulated time and again that it would not be bound by the ruling.
And, even if Beijing can seek a new ruling, it will have to bear much of the burden of proof.
In the aftermath of the Hague ruling, Beijing has only two options: to remain as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or follow Washington who has steadfastly refused to ratify the international treaty.
Yet for Beijing’s own sake, like its legitimate demarcation of territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, it’s better to remain. Beijing can also file cases to the ITLOS when it thinks its rights are being infringed upon.
Among Beijing’s many allegations, there is one that may serve it well: the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague, which served as the registry in this arbitration, is not an United Nations organ.
As I mentioned in my previous column, the South China Sea tribunal was set up on an impromptu basis by the ITLOS and Beijing could have enjoyed its right to nominate a judge to the panel.
The ITLOS outsourced clerical works for the tribunal to the PCA, which is not a court of law itself.
Both parties are supposed to contribute to a deposit to the PCA to cover fees and expenses, but as Beijing vehemently rejected the entire proceedings, Manila had to foot the bill itself.
But now, Beijing says Manila got what it wanted after it bribed all the judges.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 21.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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