Mischief is an offense that is generally associated with a child. If China were a human being, it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a child. It is a behemoth in terms of its land area, population, size of its economy, and military strength.
Yet, like a child, China is creating mischief in Mischief Reef (Panganiban Reef) which, in this article, is a metaphor for the islands, atolls, and other features in the South China Sea over which China claims indisputable sovereignty to the exclusion of other littoral states, and regardless of what international law says.
China’s U-shaped map
China’s mischief in Mischief Reef is symbolized by a U-shaped map, consisting of 9-dashed lines, drawn by the Chinese leadership back in 2009. China juxtaposed the U-shaped map against long-accepted maps of the South China Sea.
Everything that fell inside the U-shape belongs to China, said the Chinese leadership. It was as simple as that.
Their justification? Uncorroborated historical claims that certain Chinese admirals laid claim to islands, rocks, and features in the South China Sea for the Middle Kingdom centuries ago. In doing so, China acted no differently from a mischievous child who answers “because I said so,” when asked why he owns every toy inside Toy Kingdom.
The problem with Chinese mischief
The problem with Chinese mischief in Mischief Reef is that it is based on a claim that lacks solid historical evidence. It is comparable to a naked land-grab, which is punishable as a criminal offense in today’s civilized world.
It runs against the letter and spirit of international law governing the seas and the oceans, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China, ironically, is also a signatory. It deprives other littoral states in the South China Sea of their maritime entitlements under the UNCLOS.
The danger with Mischief Reef
The danger with Chinese mischief in Mischief Reef is that it threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation and uninterrupted flow of commerce even as many of the international Sea Lines of Communications (SLOC) pass through areas covered by China’s mischievous U-shaped map.
By mischievously transforming all the waters, including what are called the high-seas, inside the 9-dashed lines into one big Chinese pond, China is daring sea-going vessels of other countries to enter the area at the risk of being hosed down, at worse, by the Chinese Coast Guard.
Chinese mischief has created tension in the South China Sea where none existed before. Trouble between it and any one of the other claimant states could erupt anytime because of deliberate act or through miscalculation.
The real reason behind China’s mischief in Mischief Reef
Shorn of all the beautiful arguments presented by Chinese scholars working for so-called independent International Studies Institutes scattered all over the mainland, China’s fantastic claim in Mischief Reef is driven by no other than the need to feed and keep contented close to 1.3 billion people representing 19% of the world’s total population, which is a pre-condition to the communist rulers’ continued stay in power.
China’s economic growth is already showing signs of slackening. The Chinese leadership must prepare for the time when domestic resources dry up and the country ceases to be the cheapest workshop of the world.
The areas inside the 9-dashed lines are rich in fisheries resources and believed to hold billions of barrels of oil and natural gas. China must ensure “ownership” and possession of them by all means before other countries do.
Never mind international law when it says, the high seas form part of the global commons that no state could appropriate because they belong to all mankind. And never mind that Chinese historical claim is as good as a contract written in water. The Chinese people believe in the claim, anyway.
As mentioned by David Brown in an article he wrote for Yale Global, “China’s man in the street is furious that countries on the periphery of ‘China’s South China Sea’ are stealing China’s resources when they fish on the high seas or drill for offshore oil and gas.”
To the Chinese rulers, Chinese public opinion is all that matters because it is what will keep them in power, and the Chinese people are assured of food and energy security when the Chinese economic miracle has become just a fond memory. – Rappler.com
*The writer is a diplomat who requested anonymity.
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