The Bully in the Backyard

The five U.N. Security Council Members have been a force unto themselves for a very long time. They have always made decisions which affect the entire world, but are really not subject to the mandate of the U.N General Assembly. When it comes to their respective national interests, security or sovereignty, they have all only favoured themselves against the global interest. Incidents abound when they have refused to subject themselves to the rulings of the international organizations under the U.N. mandate.

What can the world do? Nothing much.

The most recent example is the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration against China and in favour of the Philippines – you have read all about it in the newspapers for the past several days. The coverage of this award has not yet ended, and the world is watching China if it would honour the decision.

All indications point to an absolute and total rejection by China. And, ASEAN (as usual) has tried to be ambiguous, not wanting to add insult to injury and also perennially worried about China’s intentions.

China will have to come to terms with the award (which by the way, is not enforceable). While it is easy to reject the decision saying it is flawed and against historical facts, most countries would not be willing to accept China’s intransigence. If they are mute, it would mean that China could come within 200 nautical miles of any country in the world, build a reef, and claim exclusive economic rights in that region. Further, if one has seen China’s nine-dash demarcation in the South China Sea, one would not know whether to laugh or cry. Basically, China is claiming exclusivity of the sea even when its “dash”: extends to thousands of KMs from its shores. No country has done that feat before, and it is only but natural that no country in the region has acknowledged the nine-dash perimeter set by China.

There is one difference between China and the other Security Council Members. China is the new rising power, whereas the others have been powers for a very long time – the U.K., France, Russia, and the U.S. New powers would always face problems when they are rising, as their rise would be challenged by the established world order. In the case of China, however, its rise has been of the economic nature – China has led the global economy for the past couple of decades, and has risen rapidly to the position of No. 2 in the world economic order. And, countries, even those which are far far away, like Mexico and Brazil, are careful when it comes to dealing with the economic might of China.

However, when it comes to exercising its military power, China has gotten much push back from the only world power that matters today – the U.S. The United States obviously does not relish the militaristic rise of China, with its aim of maintaining world peace as its only super power. China has been investing increasing sums of money on its military, though it is probably only one-third of what the U.S. spends every year. But China’s rise is inevitable, and cannot be halted on its tracks.

It would be better for China to show true global leadership and appease smaller countries who have natural claims on the South China Sea. It has got to ensure the safety of international navigation through the South China Sea. Imagine if China imposes an air-defence identification zone all across the South China Sea – no country would respect it. China needs to behave as a global statesman who can draw respect.

There is a real serious possibility of military miscalculations in the South China Sea, and the world should strive hard to avoid a war. China needs to immediately stop building of military facilities on occupied islets.

Let us see what happens in the near term. Cooler heads need to prevail. Unnecessary belligerent rhetoric would lead to frayed nerves all around.


Vijay Srinivasan

17th July 2016







One thought on “The Bully in the Backyard

  1. Sangam

    Well written blog, but then when it comes to own interests Other world powers also equally guilty. USA is not even a party to UNCLOS

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