The South China Sea: a fair arbitration?


The South China Sea arbitration has become one of the most heated cases in not only Australia, but in the world.

I would like to express my firm disagreement with the Australian government’s position.

As soon as the arbitration result came out last month, Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, warned that if China proceeds in its “serious international transgression” it will suffer a “strong reputational cost”. Ironically, this threat is weakened by the false reputation China already suffers, both here and abroad.

The Australian view tends to inaccurately describe China as a huge, savage and absurd country of extreme nationalism and obsessive ambitions. China’s political structure may be seem unique to the Western world, but it is far from an irrational nation that neglects justice and basic human rights. While the widely-read magazine, The Economist, may have predicted the withering decline of China’s economy and government for decades, but both continue to survive today, and are developing more rapidly than ever before.

There are sound reasons for the lack of a Chinese breakdown – the state is not harmful to anyone, either inside or outside, and it runs most effectively under it’s own special rules.

Yet, many Australians continue to allow bias and stereotypes, influencing their views of the country’s actions. In regards to the South China Sea arbitration case, attitudes are smeared by an increasing fear of growing Chinese power, and an irrational prejudice toward China’s authoritarian structure. In the same way that we embrace the LGBT community and tolerate diverse sexual preferences, we must tolerate diversity in the political structures that states arrange for themselves. China’s complicated governance does place it in the minority of countries, but this cannot be a reason for prejudice and fear to prevail.

Perhaps more importantly is that the Arbitral Tribunal is far from an objective international court with binding force. Rather, it is a misleading agent controlled by US-led alliances, whose politicians manipulate public emotion and opinion to satisfy their own interests. The arbitration of the dispute initiated by the Philippines is conducted by judges with suspicious motivations – ones that do not appear neutral. Furthermore, territorial issues are not subject to UNCLOS, nor maritime delimitation disputes.

If this unfair arbitration eventually came into effect, America would be the country that would benefit the most as it would facilitate a continued interference in the affairs of other countries. This story is not an original one. In 2012 America instigated the entire Diaoyudao Conflict between Japan and China with economic motives. Although the US claimed to have a neutral position, it is stated in the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, that the islands in question belong to the Japanese, therefore giving the United States the right to interfere. Later in 2014, President Barack Obama even publically declared that the US would “defend Japan” in its dispute with China. From an economics standpoint, when China and Japan ceased economic cooperation in this period of strained relations, the U.S. economy remained stable, which helped America begin to climb out of their debt crisis.

What a similar story to the one we see in the South China Sea today!

All in all, territorial and sea disputes are always complicated, and it is difficult for outsiders to make judgements. The best solution would be to leave the Chinese and Filipinos to sort out the issue for themselves. No matter what mechanism or means are chosen for settling quarrels between countries, the consent of states concerned should be acknowledged by external actors and the will of sovereign states should never be violated. Only when an agreement is reached by the parties concerned, through negotiation on an equal footing, can a dispute be settled once and for all. And only this will ensure a full and effective implementation of the agreement.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.