How China Could Conquer Asia with Six Wars Without Violating the U.N. Charter

by Julian Ku

One possible silver lining in Russia and China’s invocation of the UN Charter to block U.S. action in Syria is that both nations have bound themselves (at least in part) to the same norm.  But at least with respect to China, it is probably not bothered by the UN Charter’s limitations on the use of force because any of the wars it is likely to contemplate would be (at least arguably) consistent with Article II’s self defense obligations.

For instance, this astonishingly fierce article (in Chinese, translation here)  from a nationalistic website in China and republished in HK, lays out “Six Wars China Must Fight in the Next Fifty Years.”  Those wars would involve invasions of the following places in the next half-century:

1) Taiwan
2) The Spratly Islands and the South China Sea (kicking out Vietnam and the Philippines)
3) Southern Tibet (along the border with India)
4) Diaoyu Islands and Okinawa (kicking out Japan)
5) Mongolia
6) Siberia (Russia)

For every single one of these proposed wars, China would raise the banner of self-defense under Article 51 since it claims sovereignty over each of the territories it would be invading.  Sure, some of their territorial sovereignty claims are complete bunk (Siberia?!?).  But there are certainly plausible legal arguments behind the rest of them.

Now, this list of “six wars” is the stuff of Chinese nationalistic fantasies, although any of the first four conflicts could really happen in the next few years.  But from China’s perspective, the UN Charter places almost no restraints on it since it does not restrict China from recovering territory lost to foreign powers in its past.  So China can talk as much as it likes about the sanctity of the U.N. Charter, because it will never feel serious constrained by it.

As a bonus for those readers intrigued by the New Chinese Imperialism, I highly recommend viewing this CG animation video of a joint China-Taiwan military campaign to invade and occupy the Diaoyu Islands, kicking out the Japanese as they do so.  It is like a video game, complete with a last scene with a disturbing depiction of a Chinese nuke used against Tokyo.  No wonder Japan is beefing up its military.

The larger point is that I have never understood why everyone thinks the UN Charter will constrain military action since almost all conceivable large-scale inter-state wars will involve territorial disputes where sovereignty is contested. That is certainly the case with China and it would be the case between Nicaragua and Colombia, or Chile and Bolivia, etc.  Perhaps the UN Charter constrains some countries, but I doubt it will constrain China if it ever embarks on these insane but not inconceivable plans for Asian domination.

http://opiniojuris.org/2013/09/20/china-fight-six-wars-without-violating-article-2-u-n-charter/

7 Responses

  1. Taiwan is recognized by several states as an independent state and the PRC has never controlled one inch of Taiwan.  It would be an unacceptable interpretation of the U.N. Charter that would tolerate a PRC use of armed force to invade Taiwan. I understand that the majority of the people on Taiwan self-identify as Taiwanese, not Chinese — something that would be quite important with respect to self-determination of people and the prohibition of the use of armed force to deny a people the right to self-determination.

  2. I’m not sure how far you’re endorsing this argument.  Let’s assume with you that there are “there are certainly plausible legal arguments behind” some of the territorial claims (perhaps all but Siberia, but I’m not sure what you mean by “the rest of them”).  You might be saying simply that China would claim self-defense, and not feel at all inhibited by the Charter, regardless of whether the argument is a good one.  (E.g., “But from China’s perspective, the UN Charter places almost no restraints on it since it does not restrict China from recovering territory lost to foreign powers in its past.  So China can talk as much as it likes about the sanctity of the U.N. Charter, because it will never feel serious constrained by it.”) 
     
    Elsewhere, you suggest that — at least if the territorial claim were colorable — China’s self-defense claim would be persuasive.  (E.g., the title of the post.  Or “I have never understood why everyone thinks the UN Charter will constrain military action since almost all conceivable large-scale inter-state wars will involve territorial disputes where sovereignty is contested.” Or maybe “any of the wars it is likely to contemplate would be (at least arguably) consistent with Article II’s self defense obligations.”).
     
    Put aside, again, the validity of the territorial claim, and whether this kind of argument is properly characterized as self-defense or simply not an unlawful use of force in the meaning of 2(4).  The latter of your views sounds a lot like India’s position in India/Goa, which perhaps suggests poetic justice.  Still, in your view, is there not a point at which using force to reclaim territory that has long been held adverse to the claim becomes more like an illegal reprisal?  And isn’t something like “South Tibet” a good candidate?

  3. This is worst than any piece written by any journalist I’ve ever read.

  4. To recall merely one example where there was an invasion of another state based partly on a disputed territory claim, recall the U.N. S.C. condemnation of Iraq when it invaded Kuwait. 
    Self-defense won’t work for the PRC when there is no “armed attack” on the PRC, and if the PRC claim is that “foreign” actors have controlled Chinese territory (begs the question) by force, they have done so for so long that an argument based on Article 51 of the Charter will have no legal traction.  It is well known that “disputes” must be settled by peaceful means (art. 33) and that use of force to settle territorial claims would be an unlawful act of aggression (see 1970 dec. Prin. IL and the 1974 Dec. on Aggression).

  5. I think that if the PRC were to try that, Taiwan would be re-recognized as the legitimate “China” and the newly composed UNSC would take measures under Article 51 (remember that “[m]easures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”)
    While you might consider this implausible due to the recent convergence of interests between China and Russia, Russia will be too scared to allow China to act in Taiwan and Mongolia unilaterally through the use of force – there will be easily a consensus in the UNSC to stop such action one way or the other.
    The most plausible way for China (PRC) to get that territory is just to buy it during the next global financial crisis. But war? No, too complicated…

  6. I did not know that wenweipo.com represents the official views of the Chinese government. I also did not know that China had given up the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence on which it officially bases its foreign policy and the no-first use doctrine to which it has adhered since acquiring nuclear weapons. Neither was I aware that capturing a number of peripheral territories to China would suffice to conquer Asia. And the only state government that I know of which has attempted to twist the interpretation of Article 51 of the UN Charter in a way that makes it credible to wage a war of aggression under the banner of self-defence is not the PRC.
    Maybe the writers of this website are plotting to take over from the CCP and have published their secret manifesto like this in the same way that the Knights of the KKK website predicts future US policy. I suggest that opiniojuris devotes more space to the analysis of the international legal views of these kinds of organisations in the future.

  7. The right to self-defense appears in the charter as an exception to the prohibition of the use of force. An exception cannot be interpreted extensively; rather it should be interpreted as restrictively as possible. To say that instead of using the means for dispute resolution provided in the charter to claim back territories that have not been in the control of China for (at least) decades, is too wide an interpretation of the right to self-defense to be acceptable. 

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