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Comment on Simon Chesterman, `Asia’s Ambivalence about International Law and Institutions: Past, Present and Futures’

by Antony Anghie

[Antony Anghie, National University of Singapore. Tony Anghie has written on various aspects of globalization, human rights, and the history and theory of international law. He is a member of the TWAIL network of scholars. This post is part of a joint Opinio Juris/EJIL:Talk! symposium. For the latest symposium post on EJIL:Talk!, click here.]

Simon Chesterman’s article displays a customary rigor and thoughtfulness. As I understand it, Simon’s broad argument is that Asian states have not engaged with the international system as much as their counterparts in other regions-Latin America and Africa, for instance. Simon views this situation as anomalous suggesting that Asia has `arguably’ benefitted the most from the current international order-of which international law is a part-and yet remains reluctant to participate fully in the system. The question then arises of whether Asia will be engage more deeply as its power increases, and whether such engagement will lead to a different sort of world order. He concludes that international law will remain much the same.

This is a rich and far reaching article and I can comment on only a few aspects of the many issues it raises. I agree in large part with Simon’s historical analysis; but I think he glosses over important aspects of that history which help us understand how Asian states did attempt to engage with international law, and why that experience led to a failure which further estranged them from a system of international law about which they always felt ambivalent. Simon assesses Asian engagement with international law principally in two ways. First, by the extent to which Asian states have signed on to various treaties and regimes(such as the ICJ, the ICC, international human rights treaties); and second, by the extent of legal integration within Asia itself. ASEAN for instance, is far less `legalized’ than corresponding regional organizations What he mentions but glosses over in one sentence at footnote 102 (perhaps ironically, a generous reference to my own work) is my concern here: the “Third way”-the efforts Asian states made to develop an anti-colonial internationalism and use it as a basis for changing international law-an initiative that began at Bandung in 1955 and extended through the Non-Aligned Movement to the New International Economic Order (NIEO).

Asian states realized that they were excluded by the new UN system from any meaningful decision making power. (See R.P. Anand, `The Formation of International Organizations and India: A Historical Study’, Leiden Journal of International Law 23 (2010) pp. 5-21. ) Concerned about this predicament, various Asian states held conferences, in Delhi 1947 and Colombo 1954 to explore Asia’s role in the emerging world order. These were preludes to Bandung in 1955. (Luis Eslava, Michael Fakhri and Vasuki Nesiah (eds.) Bandung, Global History and International Law: Critical Pasts and Pending Futures (CUP forthcoming))

I agree with Simon that the Bandung communique and its version of sovereignty expressed in the “Five Principles” reflects norms that are found in the UN Charter. This is entirely understandable, however, given Asia’s experience under colonialism that Simon covers well in his article, the effect of which was to deride and subordinate any other version of sovereignty. Sovereignty after all was indispensable for participation in the system. Most importantly, however, the Asian states at Bandung, rather than simply accepting wholesale a Western international law, or acting in a suitably modest “regional” manner, attempted to forge a global movement, with states from Africa that, in time, evolved into the Non-Aligned Movement that represented the vast majority of countries in the world. This was an internationalism based on the powerfully felt needs of the time by the vast majority of the world’s states engaged in an anti-colonial campaign and attempting to assert their sovereignty, ensure their security and promote development. This contrasted with an internationalism based on liberal abstractions-regarding the state, society, personhood itself-that presented themselves as universal and that animated the normative claims of a Western international order that was still based on power relations now unassailably entrenched in the UN system. Most significantly, Asian states had an agenda that was directed very explicitly at reforming the international legal system. The organization that was to become the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization (AALCO), still functioning actively and based in New Delhi, was established after Bandung to achieve this task.

The third world states-Asian, African, Latin American-launched the NIEO, a massive campaign to change international law. This attempted to establish, among other changes, a different regime of international trade and investment, and of the law of the sea and the resources of the deep sea bed. It is difficult now to imagine that the UNCTAD version of trade was a real rival to the GATT in the 1960s. The NIEO was immediately denounced by Western lawyers and states as unrealistic and anarchical. The battle for international law was a bitter one and the Third World lost. The point then is that Asian states, together with their African and Latin American allies, attempted to do what Simon argues they must do, which is assume greater responsibility for global governance. At the risk of generalizing, disillusion and wariness set in again as a result of the failure of the NIEO. Asian states had ignored the hard lessons of nineteenth century colonialism in the dazzle of independence, lured by the false promise of international law; and resolved not to be fooled again. In more recent time the blatant hypocrisy of the United States and United Kingdom in claiming to promote accountability and human rights in Asia and other parts of the world after the illegal war they waged in Iraq, only confirmed this vision of an unequal and power driven international law.

Asian states, then, failed in their efforts to create a different world order. Equally, however, their efforts to participate more fully in existing structures of governance have been regularly thwarted. Simon points out that, given its size and power, Asia is under-represented in international institutions. He does not really elaborate on why this is the case, and indeed seems oddly coy about this issue, even in his conclusion where he almost seems to suggest that it is Asian reticence that has led to this situation; he refers to Asia’s under-participation and under-representation as being due to historical factors and also to “the diversity of power dynamics of the continent as well as the absence of push factors to bring about change.” This is odd given, again, the many ongoing, if unsuccessful, battles waged by Asian states to win more say in the international system. Simon mentions India’s campaign to gain a seat in the Security Council almost in passing. China’s creation of the Asian Infrastructure Bank was surely influenced by the frustration it felt as its efforts to play a larger role in the global economic system through the established institutions, the IMF and the World Bank were blocked and delayed.( See The Economist, `The infrastructure of power’, June 30th 2016.) In a different context, Asia’s economic success has been remarkable. Some Asian states at least have used international law strategically and successfully. Indeed, Asian states may have succeeded despite and not because of international law. But Japan’s efforts to question neo-liberal economics and the orthodoxies of the Bank and the IMF in explaining and understanding the so called ”East Asian miracle” were also frustrated, diffused and diminished, as scholars such as Alice Amsden point out. (Alice Amsden, `Why Isn’t the Whole World Experimenting with the East Asian Model to Develop?: Review of The East Asian Miracle’, World Development Report, Vol. 22 No. 4 pp. 627-633, 1994.)

In conclusion, my argument is that Simon, in glossing over these aspects of the Asian experience, fails to recognize the ways in which Asia has attempted to influence international law. Perhaps more broadly, in overlooking the power struggles that have caused this marginalization of Asia, Simon adopts a rather sanguine view of international law and its openness to change which is somewhat strange given that in other respects his approach is so keenly aware of power politics.

My second point is to agree with Simon that it is unlikely that the “rise of Asia” will witness a major shift in international law. Rather, convergence will be likely. For me, this is simply because the largest Asian states which are in the best position to propose new initiatives, are unlikely to do so; it is surely no coincidence that much of Simon’s more detailed analysis focuses on the great powers of Asia: China and, to a lesser extent, India. A different sort of analysis would have emerged if the focus had been on the jurisprudence of Judge Weeramantry (for example, on his separate opinion in Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary/Slovakia) (.pdf)) or on non-state actors in Asia. (For example, see Balakrishnan Rajagopal, `The Role of Law in Counter-hegemonic Globalization and Global Legal Pluralism: Lessons from the Narmada Valley Struggle in India’, Leiden Journal of International Law 18(2005) pp. 345-387 and Prabhakar Singh, `Indian International Law: From a Colonized Apologist to Subaltern Protagonist’, Leiden Journal of International Law, vol 23 (1), March 2010, pp. 79-103.)

History suggest that states that wield great power develop imperial tendencies. International law as it is currently configured readily lends itself to economic- and hence political- domination, and India and China, founded in many ways on ancient Empires, are now in a position to deploy for their own purposes those instruments of which they had previously been victims. The major difference between China and the United States of course is that when the former engages in economic relations with smaller states it does not claim to further a specific model of governance, of rights, of political institutions that are universal in character. Its use of economic mechanisms to expand its influence is likely to be even more effective as a result, as Asian states struggle to achieve development and now turn to China increasingly as a vehicle of growth. It is now China that is eager to enter into investment and trade agreements as Simon points out. In many respects, further, a sort of reversal has taken place: it is Western states, especially after 9/11, that have converged towards Asian ideas regarding sovereignty and security. It is Western international lawyers who have very capably and expertly provided additional and helpful justifications for expanded violence in the form of drone attacks and broad concepts of self-defense (see, for example, Daniel Bethlehem, Principles Relevant to the Scope of a State’s Right of Self-Defense Against an Imminent or Actual Armed Attack by Nonstate Actors’, 106 American Journal of International Law 1) that may in time prove useful to rising Asian states. And a Trump presidency could mean that the illiberal attitudes usually associated with authoritarian Asian states – having to do with sovereignty, nationalism, protectionism, indifference to human rights-will be the driving forces of US foreign policy. In their unassailably assured efforts to create a liberal world order, the United States and Europe misunderstood or overlooked developments not only in Afghanistan and Libya, but their own heartlands.

For Simon, the NIEO was too “radical” to succeed; the emergence of Asia as a real power, however, is in his view, unlikely to bring about major changes to the system. The Asia which fought for the NIEO had a vision but no power; some Asian states in the present have power but no distinctive vision. If this is indeed the case, the tragedy inherent in the situation must surely be appreciated. The broad conclusion appears to be that those who acquire power simply seek to preserve the system that enables and legitimizes its exercise. The theme is a familiar one: as Asia’s own history, the rise of Japan, suggests, it is only by making war, by becoming imperial, that a state becomes civilized, a proper Great Power. The cycle repeats, the difference perhaps being that rising Asian states will attempt to marry their imperial compulsions with the rhetoric of Third World solidarity, Bandung principles and non-intervention. Simon has written a fine piece exploring large themes and raising many challenging questions that will surely provoke more research.

Asia’s Ambivalence About International Law & Institutions: Introduction to Opinio Juris and EJIL:Talk! Mini-Symposium

by Simon Chesterman

[Simon Chesterman is Dean of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law. He is also Editor of the Asian Journal of International Law and Secretary-General of the Asian Society of International Law. Educated in Melbourne, Beijing, Amsterdam, and Oxford, Simon’s teaching experience includes periods at Melbourne, Oxford, Columbia, Sciences Po, and New York University.]

A decade after moving from New York to Singapore, I began work on this article in the hope of understanding what seemed to me a paradox. Well into the much-vaunted “Asian century”, the states of this region arguably benefit most from the security and economic dividends of a world ordered by international law and institutions — and yet those same states are the least likely to subscribe to such norms or participate in the bodies they create. Regionally, there is no counterpart to the continent-wide organizations in Europe, Africa, or the Americas; individually, Asian states are most reluctant to sign onto most international regimes and underrepresented in the entities that govern them.

The article opens with a brief history of Asia’s engagement with international law. The focus is on three aspects that continue to have resonance today and contribute to the wariness of international law and institutions. First and foremost is the experience of colonialism by India and many other countries across the continent: for centuries international law helped justify foreign rule, later establishing arbitrary standards of “civilization” that were required in order to gain meaningful independence. Secondly, and more specific to China, the unequal treaties of the nineteenth century and the failure to recognize the Communist government in Beijing for much of the twentieth encouraged a perception that international law is primarily an instrument of political power. Thirdly, and of particular relevance to Japan, the trials that followed the Second World War left a legacy of suspicion that international criminal law only deals selectively with alleged misconduct — leaving unresolved many of the larger political challenges of that conflict, with ongoing ramifications today.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that some Asian states take the position that international law is of questionable legitimacy, can be used for instrumental purposes, and is necessarily selective in its application.

Part two assesses Asia’s current engagement with international law and institutions, examining whether its under-participation and under-representation is in fact significant. It is, but history offers at best a partial explanation of the current situation. Ongoing ambivalence towards international law and institutions can also be attributed to the diversity of the continent, power disparities among its member states, and the absence of “push” factors driving greater integration or organization.

Finally, part three attempts to project possible future developments based on three different scenarios. These are referred to as status quo, divergence, and convergence. The article argues that the status quo — in which the most populous and (increasingly) powerful region on the planet has the least stake in its rules and governance structures — is unsustainable. A crucial element of that argument is that the rise of Asia is today complemented by the decline of the West, in particular a decline in the willingness and the ability of the United States to play its role as both a shining “city upon a hill“ and an enforcer of global norms.

Arguments about Asia’s rise and America’s decline are hardly new. Yet the current assertiveness of the Chinese government with respect to its perceived interests in the South China Sea — including the recent deployment of its only aircraft carrier — may herald a strategic inflection in international relations, with inevitable consequences for the form and the content of international law. Still more striking was the victory of a wildcard candidate in the US presidential election who campaigned on an explicit message of American decline and neo-isolationism, peppered with anti-establishment and illiberal rhetoric, who takes office at the end of this week on 20 January 2017. (The European analogue is, of course, the existential crisis of a plurality of the British public voting to express their own ambivalence about international law and institutions.)

A more nuanced example may be found in the Chinese white paper released last week (11 January 2017) on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation. The paper reiterates China’s commitment to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, but also draws a distinction between large states and small ones. Major countries, the white paper notes, should treat the strategic intentions of others “in an objective and rational manner”; small and medium-sized countries, for their part, are enjoined to avoid “tak[ing] sides among big countries.” On the broader question of international law, the paper states that “[i]nternational and regional rules should be discussed, formulated and observed by all countries concerned, rather than being dictated by any particular country. Rules of individual countries should not automatically become ‘international rules,’ still less should individual countries be allowed to violate the lawful rights and interests of others under the pretext of ‘rule of law.’”

With regard to the South China Sea issue, China reaffirms in the white paper its commitment to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but states that disputes over territories and maritime rights should be resolved through “respect[ing] historical facts and seek[ing] a peaceful solution through negotiation and consultation”. Interestingly, the document makes no reference to the infamous nine-dash line, though it does state that China has “indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha [Spratly] Islands and their adjacent waters”. Any effort to “internationalize and judicialize” the South China Sea issue, the paper goes on to say, will “only make it harder to resolve the issue, and endanger regional peace and stability.”

Such developments are, I think, broadly consistent with the argument put forward in my article. The rise of Asia in general and China in particular will see changes in the form and the content of international law — the white paper refers multiple times to a “new model of international relations” — but this will be an adaptation of existing norms and structures to a new reality rather than a rejection of those norms and structures. Evolution, then, rather than revolution.

* * *

Academic writing generally seeks to take the long view. If there is a virtue to a profession sometimes said to exist in an ivory tower, it is that one hopes to offer some perspective beyond what is in the current news cycle — a respite from the relentless presentism of the “new”. I can therefore take no credit for the fact that well after my piece for the current EJIL was completed — and even after this generous symposium had been prepared by Opinio Juris and EJIL:Talk! — there would be such a confluence of genuine news events that resonate with arguments put forward in the article. It is a sad coda that the symposium also follows soon after the passing of one of the truly great international lawyers from Asia — Christopher Weeramantry, a Sri Lankan scholar who served as Vice President of the International Court of Justice.

The full article is available here in draft form, the final version appearing later this month in EJIL. I am enormously grateful to the convenors of this symposium and the distinguished jurists who have agreed to participate. I look forward to their responses, from which I know I will learn much.

Symposium on Asia and International Law

by Chris Borgen

The forthcoming issue of the European Journal of International Law will feature an article by Professor Simon Chesterman, the Dean of the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law, entitled Asia’s Ambivalence About International Law and Institutions: Past, Present and Futures. This week, Opinio Juris and EJILTalk will hold a joint symposium on the two blogs on Professor Chesterman’s article.

The article’s abstract explains:

Asian states are the least likely of any regional grouping to be party to most international obligations or to have representation reflecting their number and size in international organizations. That is despite the fact that Asian states have arguably benefited most from the security and economic dividends provided by international law and institutions. This article explores the reasons for Asia’s under-participation and under-representation. The first part traces the history of Asia’s engagement with international law. The second part assesses Asia’s current engagement with international law and institutions, examining whether its under-participation and under-representation is in fact significant and how it might be explained. The third part considers possible future developments based on three different scenarios, referred to here as status quo, divergence and convergence. Convergence is held to be the most likely future, indicating adaptation on the part of Asian states as well as on the part of the international legal order.

The symposium will begin on Monday with an opening post by Professor Chesterman, followed by posts on Opinio Juris by Professor Tony Anghie of the National University of Singapore and on EJILTalk by Professor Eyal Benvenisti of Cambridge University.  On Tuesday, Opinio Juris will have commentary by Professor B.S. Chimni of Jawaharlal Nehru University and EJILTalk will have a piece by Professor Robert McCorquodale of the University of Nottingham and the Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law.   Wednesday will have observations and reactions on Opinio Juris by Judge Xue Hanqin  of the International Court of Justice and on EJILTalk by Judge Paik Jin-Hyun of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Finally, there will be a closing post pn both blogs by Professor Chesterman on Thursday.

We hope you will join us on both blogs for the discussion.

Addressing the Urban Future

by Chris Borgen

Urbanization is our present and it is our future. Between the recently completed UN Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, and Iraqi Special Operations entering Mosul, starting what may be a complex urban battle, we face constant reminders that  much of the world’s population now lives in cities. How we protect rights, foster development, interact with the environment, organize politically, and fight wars is increasingly an urban story.

Consider the bleak picture of megacities and the future of combat in this leaked Pentagon video (at the link and also embedded above). Some key take-aways from the video:

  • By 2030 60% of world’s population will be in cities. Most of the urban growth will be in the developing world.
  • Illicit networks will fill the gaps left by overextended and undercapitalized governments.
  • Growth will magnify the increasing economic separation between rich and poor, even thought they may be in close proximity. Uneven growth means that slums and shantytowns will rapidly expand alongside ever increasing levels of prosperity.
  • Moreover, religious and ethnic tensions will be a defining element of these urban environments
  • Megacities are complex systems where people and structures are compressed together in ways that defy both our understanding of city planning and military doctrines.
  • Living habitats will extend from the high-rise to the ground level cottage to subterranean labyrinths, each defined by its own social code and rule of law.
  • Social structures will also be stressed. Criminal networks will offer opportunity for the growing class of unemployed  and will be part of the nervous system of non-nation state, unaligned, individuals and organizations that live and work in the shadow of national rule.
  • There will be increasing complexity of human targeting as proportionally smaller number of adversaries mix with an increasingly large population of citizens.
  • The interactions of governmental failure, illicit economies,  economic growth and spreading poverty, informal networks, environmental degradation, and other factors leads to an environment of convergence hidden within the enormous scale and complexity of megacities, which become the source of adversaries and hybrid threats.
  • Classic military strategy counsels either (a) avoiding the cities or establishing a cordon to wait out the adversary  or (b) draining the swamp of non-combatants and then engaging the adversary in high-intensity conflict. But megacities are too large to isolate or cordon in their entirety.  The U.S. military will need to operate within the urban environment and current counterinsurgency  doctrine is  inadequate to address the sheer scale of megacities
  • “This is the world of our future. It is one we are not prepared to effectively operate within and it is unavoidable.”

According to FoxtrotAlpha, this video was produced for a course at the Joint Special Operations University on “Advanced Special Operations Combating Terrorism,” it is focused on urbanization from the perspective of military planning. A 2010 issue of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s journal was devoted to humanitarian law and conflict in built-up urban areas. The ICRC also had recommendations for the UN’s Habitat III conference that just ended.

The topics covered, though, are very much the province of law and lawyers, including the needs of the urban poor, the operations of criminal networks, environmental degradation and climate change, the law of armed conflict and targeting in built-up areas, informal rulemaking in communities (“order without law”), informal markets and economies,  and the role of non-state actors, to name only some of the topics that crop up. While this video is (understandably) focused on the implications on combat operations, what I also see is the need for sustained  engagement in the protection of human rights, the distribution of public goods, the fostering of inter-communal dispute resolution, and the spurring of bottom-up economic development in megacities.

The video emphasizes that the future is urban. But, as the writer William Gibson has said, “The future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

 

China’s Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Casually Slanders the South China Sea Arbitral Tribunal

by Julian Ku

I have been trying to move on from writing about the blockbuster UN Convention on the Law of the Sea arbitral award on the South China Sea.  As our readers know, I have written way too much on this topic lately.  But the Chinese government’s outrageous statements criticizing the award deserve one last post from me before I head out for a South China Sea-free vacation this summer.

In particular, I wanted to turn our readers’ focus to statements such as those made by China’s Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Liu Zhenmin, shortly after the award was released.  In his remarks denigrating the arbitral tribunal, Liu implied that the arbitrators may have been bribed to adopt the views of the Philippines in the award.  Below is an excerpt of a transcript of his remarks:

Besides, who supported the Arbitral Tribunal? The arbitrators are paid by certain parties, but who? Maybe by the Philippines or other countries. This system is completely different from the ICJ or the ITLOS.

Judges of the ICJ or the ITLOS receive salaries from the UN for the sake of independence and impartiality. But these five judges of the Arbitral Tribunal are doing it for a profit, and their payments come from the Philippines and probably others, too. We are unsure about the details but they do provide paid services.

These comments are outrageous on so many levels.   Liu knows, or should know, that the arbitrators were paid by the government of the Philippines.  The tribunal announced publicly in its Rules of Procedure Article 31-33 that it was exercising its treaty powers under Article 7 of Annex VII to UNCLOS to require payment from both parties. But Liu also knows that the only reason the arbitrators received all of their compensation from the Phillippines government is because China refused to participate and refused to pay its share. If China had actually showed up, it would have been obligated under Article 7 of UNCLOS Annex VII to pay half of the fees.  There is no evidence, and Liu cites none, that any government other than the Philippines paid the arbitrators.  Liu also conveniently fails to mention his own government’s failure to pay its fair share.

Such payments are almost always made in advance of the award being issued, or even before the proceedings begin.  In other words, the payments could not influence the award’s contents because the Philippines did not know the content of the award before they made their payments.

This manner of compensating arbitrators is so standard and unremarkable that China’s own leading commercial arbitration organization, CIETAC, allows in Rule III.C.1 for one party to pay fees for the entire arbitration even if the other party does not show up and refuses to pay its own share.   This is essentially the situation that the Philippines found itself in.  It could continue to demand that the Tribunal seek money from China for its share of the expenses, or it could pay up. It chose to pay China’s share as well, and (as a reward) is now being lambasted by China for doing so.

Vice-Minister Liu is not a party hack who doesn’t know anything about arbitration.  He is, in fact, on the roster of arbitrators available for appointment by the Permanent Court of Arbitration and he is a arbitrator of the aforementioned CIETAC.  In other words, Liu knows exactly how arbitration works, and he is feigning ignorance in order to defame the character of the UNCLOS arbitrators.

In the same press conference, Liu also claimed that UNCLOS arbitration is some sort of aberration that has never happened before, unlike the more established ICJ or ITLOS systems.  On this point, Liu is flatly incorrect. In fact, there have already been seven UNCLOS arbitrations convened under the exact same rules that were applied to the Philippines/China arbitration.  In fact, as Liu well knows, the Chinese government freely chose arbitration instead of the ICJ or ITLOS for any dispute settlement under UNCLOS.

When acceding to UNCLOS, China could have chosen under Article 287 to specify the ICJ or ITLOS as its preferred forum for dispute settlement.  It did not do so, thereby forcing any dispute involving China to be sent to UNCLOS arbitration pursuant to Article 287(5).  In other words, the Chinese government made a conscious choice to avoid the ICJ and ITLOS for disputes arising under UNCLOS.  It is astounding for one of China’s leading diplomats to denigrate the integrity of a system of dispute settlement that China freely chose and in fact demanded.

Liu’s borderline defamatory remarks matter even if China and the Philippines eventually work out a settlement of their dispute.  Liu has knowingly denigrated the integrity of five arbitrators – three of whom continue to sit on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea – using facts he almost certainly knows are false. As the esteemed Professor Jerome Cohen of NYU has noted, in many jurisdictions, this could be enough to constitute defamation or slander.  Since Liu would have immunity for his remarks, perhaps the softer sanctions could be imposed, such as demanding his resignation from the PCA’s roster of arbitrators or perhaps his removal from the position as an Associate Member of UNIDROIT.  At the very least, this sort of casual character assassination should not be forgotten nor forgiven.

Assessing the Fallout from the South China Sea Award

by Julian Ku

In addition to my posts here (see below), I have several  pieces over the last week discussing different aspects of the South China Sea award up at various outlets across the web universe (I know, I know, I need to stop writing about this topic, but indulge me just a little longer).  To briefly recap my various takes, here is a quick summary:

As a legal matter, China lost every substantive issue before the South China Sea arbitral tribunal.  I argued here at Lawfare that the award “dramatically widens” the scope of future more aggressive U.S. freedom of navigation operations by, for instance, eliminating any legal basis for a Chinese territorial sea around its artificial island on Mischief Reef.  Since that reef is also within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the U.S. Navy has (as a legal matter) carte blanche to sail or fly within 500 meters of what is now an artificial island in clear violation of Philippines’ rights under UNCLOS.

On the other hand, I warned here in The National Interest that the arbitral award does not require China to leave the South China Sea or the Spratlys in particular.  The award leaves open the legal possibility for China to claim a series of 12 nautical mile territorial seas around various rocks in the island group. This means that even in China complied with the award, it would have the legal right to maintain a robust presence there.

Taking a step back, I also blamed China’s government (in this piece for Quartz) for exacerbating the negative impact of the award by refusing the participate in the proceedings and then starting a global media war against it.  This drew much more attention to the award than would have otherwise been the case.

Finally, over at Foreign Policy, I offered a very tough critique of the role of Chinese international law scholars in bolstering the Chinese government’s claim that it can legally ignore the arbitration.  It is not so much that Chinese international legal scholars were wrong, but that their unanimity weakens their long-term credibility on the global stage.  I contrast the unanimity within China’s academic community with the much-divided U.S. academic reaction to the U.S. government’s refusal to comply with the ICJ’s Nicaragua judgment in 1986.

For any Chinese-language readers out there, I have been engaging in a debate (thanks to the fabulous translation work of my student Weitao Chen) at the Financial Times (Chinese edition) with Professor Liu Haiyang on China’s obligation under UNCLOS Article 288(4) to accept the arbitral tribunal’s determination of its own jurisdiction. Here was my initial essay, here is Prof. Liu’s response, and here is my rebuttal.  Annoyingly, it appears my initial essay has been censored in China, which must mean I am making good arguments!

I am not done with discussing this award, but I do need to get a life at some point. I am also trying to incorporate all of this into a larger project on China’s overall relationship with international law.  Certainly, this whole dispute will be a significant chapter in my book!

Will Today’s Blockbuster South China Sea Award Save or Destroy UNCLOS Dispute Settlement?

by Julian Ku

I have been mildly obsessed with the dispute between the Philippines and China for over three years now. It touches on so many areas of my research interest: international courts, China, and the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. So I am almost sad that the dispute, at least for legal purposes, finally ended today with the arbitral tribunal’s sweeping award in favor of the Philippines.

Since the beginning of the arbitration process, I have wondered what the impact of China’s boycott would be on the future viability of the UNCLOS system of dispute settlement. For the first two years of the dispute, I was skeptical that China would suffer any meaningful damage from defying the UNCLOS arbitral system. Thus, I wondered if, combined with Russia’s almost cavalier defiance of an ITLOS proceeding involving Greenpeace, the end result in this process would be a toothless UNCLOS dispute settlement process of little value or significance. This was one of the reasons I sharply criticized the Philippines for adopting a fruitless “lawfare” strategy.

Time will tell, but early reviews point to me being wrong. China is much more vulnerable to “shamefare” than I had imagined. The evidence for China’s vulnerability lies, I think, in the extraordinary over-the-top global public relations campaign to denigrate and delegitimize the award before it was even issued. If China thought the award would have little impact, it would not have dragooned its diplomatic service, its state-run media, and even its civil society into a huge, sometimes nasty PR effort against the award.

Still, the game must run its course. The key is how other nations not named the Philippines or the U.S. react to the award. If most key nations, including China’s regional neighbors, follow the line set out by the U.S. and call upon China to comply with the award, then China’s isolation on this issue will be significant.   The G-7 is expected to follow this path, and it is possible that Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia will do so as well. If South Korea, Australia, and India can also be brought on board, then China will have suffered a diplomatic as well as a legal defeat. Why? Because any aggressive Chinese action to respond to the award, such as by militarizing its artificial islands or even building new ones, will be framed as a further violation of China’s international obligations. China will have its own mini-Crimea crisis, and it will be hard for it to gain legitimacy for its actions.

On the other hand, no matter how many government press releases denounce China, it is hard to imagine China ever complying with the award. It can’t, even if it wanted to, since it has locked itself into a rigid public position against the award in front of the world and its own people. So the arbitral award will go unenforced and unimplemented for the foreseeable future. No matter how you slice it, an unenforced award is not a sign of a strong and effective legal system. UNCLOS dispute settlement can be ignored, not without cost, but certainly it can be ignored.

On balance, however, the UNCLOS system seems to have been strengthened by today’s ruling. The U.S. and other key countries seem to have rallied in support of it, and the tribunal’s findings seem to carry a fair amount of credibility with most governments. Indeed, the U.S. now seems to endorse the UNCLOS dispute settlement system with more vigor than one might expect for a non-party. It seems that UNCLOS dispute settlement will survive in a post-Philippines v. China world after all.

The South China Sea Arbitration is Here! And China Will Not Be Happy

by Julian Ku

The much-anticipated long awaited South China Sea Arbitration award on the merits is here!  It is a slam-dunk, complete, utter, massive, total legal victory for the Philippines on all counts (lots of metaphors here, none are quite sufficient). Essentially, the tribunal ruled in favor of almost all of the Philippines’ claims in the arbitration.  Perhaps the most headline friendly result: The Nine Dash Line has been ruled inconsistent with China’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

I have been mostly reacting on twitter this morning, and I am working on some related posts here and elsewhere. This case brings to an end the long process initiated by the Philippines back in 2013 (links to my discussion of them are below).  We will be discussing and debating the impact of this award for a while.

The NY Times on Bitcoins and China

by Chris Borgen

William Gibson, repurposing a Gertrude Stein quip, said about cyberspace “there’s no there, there” capturing the ethos of the internet as a place beyond the physical world of borders and jurisdiction.  Bitcoin melded cryptography and networked processing to attempt to make a currency that was not based in or controlled by any state.

But the internet is based on servers and fiber-optic cable and telecom switching stations that are firmly rooted in the physical world.  The cloud is made out of metal and plastic and glass. And as for Bitcoin, there increasingly is a there, there. And “there” is China. (For a quick background on Bitcoin, see this video, which explains how Bitcoin builds a payment system that replaces trust and personal allegiance with “mathematical confidence” or  this article.)

The New York Times reports how Chinese companies have come to dominate the production of Bitcoins:

In its early conception, Bitcoin was to exist beyond the control of any single government or country. It would be based everywhere and nowhere.

Yet despite the talk of a borderless currency, a handful of Chinese companies have effectively assumed majority control of the Bitcoin network. They have done so through canny investments and vast farms of computer servers dispersed around the country. The American delegation flew to Beijing because that was where much of the Bitcoin power was concentrated…

…But China’s clout is raising worries about Bitcoin’s independence and decentralization, which was supposed to give the technology freedom from the sort of government crackdowns and interventions that are commonplace in the Chinese financial world.

“The concentration in a single jurisdiction does not bode well,” said Emin Gun Sirer, a professor at Cornell and a Bitcoin researcher. “We need to pay attention to these things if we want decentralization to be a meaningful thing.”

What follows is a story considering the possible factors that contributed to Bitcoin’s popularity in China (including attempts to avoid government financial regulators and the popularity of online gambling) which, in turn, incentivized large investments in Bitcoin businesses, leading to the situation where “over 70 percent of the transactions on the Bitcoin network were going through just four Chinese companies…”

And, through it all, there is the question as to whether these and other Chinese companies even want to exercise leadership over Bitcoin at all. There is an interesting question of the psychology of power. The frame of the NY Times story is a meeting that took place in China between US and Chinese corporate leaders. The Americans flew to China because, as the Times put it, “that was where much of the Bitcoin power was concentrated.” They tried to persuade Chinese leadership to make certain changes to Bitcoin but were unable to do so. They also expressed frustration at the reluctance of the Chinese companies to exercise leadership in the industry. But then consider this description by one of the Chinese CEO of the same meeting:

“It was almost like imperialistic Westerners coming to China and telling us what to do… There has been a history on this. The Chinese people have long memories.”

Same room; completely different views of the dynamics of the meeting.

So, before we deploy too much post-modern, post-Westphalian, post-everything analysis to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or to the internet more generally, perhaps we need to  give jurisdiction, territory, memory, and psychology a second look. There is a there, there.

I’d Like to Be Under the South China Sea in a Crewed Deep Sea Platform in the Shade

by Chris Borgen

Earlier this week, Julian and I each posted about the international legal issues of the Moon and asteroid mining plans of U.S. companies. Those projects may have sounded like something out of Space 1999 but now we hear of one of China’s near-term priorities that sounds like SeaLab 2020.

Bloomberg reports:

China is speeding up efforts to design and build a manned deep-sea platform to help it hunt for minerals in the South China Sea, one that may also serve a military purpose in the disputed waters.

Such an oceanic “space station” would be located as much as 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) below the surface…

This would be by far the deepest long-term undersea facility (as opposed to a deep sea vessel, such as a submarine). By way of context, the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations Facility (NEEMO), the “world’s only undersea research station” is anchored at a depth of 62 feet.

China’s leadership explains that, in part, this base will help with a new frontier of resource development, using rhetoric that is at times similar to the arguments some make concerning private space ventures on the Moon and asteroids:

President Xi Jinping said at a national science conference in May: “The deep sea contains treasures that remain undiscovered and undeveloped, and in order to obtain these treasures we have to control key technologies in getting into the deep sea, discovering the deep sea, and developing the deep sea.”

But, beyond looking for deep sea resources, the concern is that the base is part of China’s gambit for sovereignty over much of the South China Sea.  However, while establishing this undersea platform may become part of China’s political argument for its sovereignty claims, it does nothing to support the legal argument. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), this undersea platform would probably be treated as an “artificial island,” like an oil rig.  At the time that UNCLOS was being drafted, large undersea bases were more the province of James Bond movies than treaty negotiations, so the closest analogy in the text is what would likely be applied in this case.  (For a discussion on sea platforms, “seasteading,” and sovereignty claims by non-state actors, see this post.)

Although it is not clear where the location of this undersea lab would be, UNCLOS has similar provisions concerning artificial islands located in an Exclusive Economic Zone (article 60) or on the continental shelf (article 80, which refers back to the article 60 text, with any applicable adjustments).

The text from article 60 states:

Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf.

So, in short, building this base would not change China’s territorial rights.

However, the concern is that, while it may not help the legal argument, another goal of the base may be to bolster the political argument with some military muscle. The Bloomberg article quotes the following:

“To develop the ocean is an important strategy for the Chinese government, but the deep sea space station is not designed against any country or region,” said Xu Liping, a senior researcher for Southeast Asian affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government-run institute.

“China’s project will be mainly for civil use, but we can’t rule out it will carry some military functions,” Xu said. “Many countries in the world have been researching these kind of deep water projects and China is just one of those nations.”

Whether China actually builds this base–and if so, where–remains to be seen. If it does so, it will also be interesting to assess whether the base turns out to be most useful as a scientific research facility, a political gambit, or a military base.

Why the World Cup of the Unrecognized Matters [Updated]

by Chris Borgen

States and nations are not the same thing.  A nation is a “people,” itself a difficult concept to define under international law. A state is a recognized political entity that meets certain criteria. International lawyers will tell you that the characteristics of statehood include a defined territory, a government, a permanent population, and the ability to enter into foreign relations.

State formation in the 19th century and also right after World War I often sought to build states for nations (hence the term “nation-state”) but the terms are not coterminous.

So what are the hallmarks of nationhood? Many know in their hearts that there may be no more important mark of nationhood than a national soccer team. C’mon, you know it’s true.

And sometimes, peoples would like to remind you that they are nations—if not states!—and want to be recognized as such (nations or states, it gets a little blurry).

So, pay attention, soccer fans and international lawyers, because this weekend will be the final match in the 2016 Confederation of Independent Football Associations (ConIFA) World Football Cup, sometimes referred to as the World Cup of the unrecognized.  According to this NPR report, host Abkhazia is the current favorite after Western Armenia and Kurdistan were unexpectedly eliminated.

The first ConIFA World Football Cup was played in 2014 and seems to be the successor to the VIVA World Cup, about which I had previously written.

ConIFA should not be confused with FIFA, the international federation of football associations. As I had explained in a post from a couple of years ago, membership in FIFA is not based on being a state, but rather on being a football association.  Thus, if you look at a list of FIFA member associations, as England and Wales are separate associations, they have separate World Cup teams. Nonetheless, joining FIFA can be subject at times to some of the same political tensions as the recognition of a state.

According to FIFA’s statutes (.pdf), to be eligible to become a member of FIFA, an applicant must first be a member of one of the six main football confederations: the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL), the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the Union des Associations Européennes de Football (UEFA), the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF), the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), or the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC). Without going into all the statutes of these individual confederations, it is likely that some vote among the existing member associations in a given confederation will be a first hurdle that an aspirant FIFA-member must pass. (See, for example, UEFA’s rules (.pdf).)

Thus, although membership in FIFA is technically not based on statehood, the process largely relies on statehood and state-based football organizations (but for noted exceptions, such as England and Wales). Consequently, unrecognized entities such as South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh have little chance of seeing their football associations become part of a confederation, let alone FIFA.

Now consider ConIFA’s  membership rules, which are linked not to statehood, but to “nationhood” or being a “people”:

CONIFA is made for national teams that represent a nation which is not a member of FIFA (yet). For that reason only non-members of FIFA can join CONIFA. The second requirement is that the applicant is represent of a nation. The following table explains in detail what we consider a “nation”:

1.The Football Association is a member of one of the six continental confederations of FIFA.

2. The entity represented by the Football Association is a member of the IOC.

3. The entity represented by the Football Association is a member of one of the member federations of ARISF.

4. The entity represented by the Football Association is in possession of an ISO 3166-1 country code.

5. The entity represented by the Football Association is a de-facto independent territory.

6. The entity represented by the Football Association is included on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories.

7. The entity represented by the Football Association is included in directory of countries and territories of the TCC.

8. The entity represented by the Football Association is a member of UNPO [Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization] and/or FUEN [Federal Union of European Nationalities].

9. The entity represented by the Football Association is a minority included in the World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples.

10. The entity represented by the Football Association is a linguistic minority, the language of which is included on the ISO 639.2 list.

Every Football Association that fulfills at least one of the above criteria is very welcome to apply for CONIFA membership!

[Emphases and bracketed text added.]

As for the aspiration of at least some of these entities to become generally recognized as states, consider the parenthetical “(yet)” from the first sentence.

And why might a a sports tournament be important to people with much bigger issues to worry about? Because you can cheer your team, wave your flag, feel a sense of unity, sing when your winning and… yes, you can actually win. And if you don’t there’s always next year.

When you live in an unrecognized regime, you take your wins where you can get them.

Whether any of these associations become part of FIFA, let alone whether or not those entities that also seek to be recognized as states will ever achieve that goal, is a long and doubtful journey.  But in many cases that is due to reasons of military intervention, history, and/or international law. For today, there is a football to be played.

China Launches Op-Ed Rebuttal to Philippines’ Arbitration Case

by Julian Ku

The UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal formed to consider the dispute between the Philippines and China gave China until January 1 to file a response to the arguments made by the Philippines at its most recent merits hearing.  China had not showed up at any of the hearings, nor has it submitted any official written arguments to the Tribunal.   I don’t know if China will file any submissions (don’t hold your breath), but its state-run flagship The People’s Daily has launched an op-ed fusillade this week attacking the Philippines. Perhaps, this is China’s response to the arguments made at the arbitral hearing.

The first editorial, “Grandstanding Cannot Cover Up Illegal Moves”, is focused on vilifying the Philippines’ for bringing this arbitration, and the remarks of its foreign minister Albert F. del Rosario. The criticism is mostly non-legal, accusing Mr. del Rosario of bad faith, speaking untruths, and being an all-around bad guy.  But the oped does contain the germ of a legal argument justifying China’s defiance of the UNCLOS tribunal:

State sovereignty is a core principle in contemporary international law. No force is above a sovereign state. No country, organization or individual could expect China to stand by and allow its interests to be harmed. Here is a piece of advice for people like Mr. del Rosario: Don’t misread the situation. The Chinese government and people are adamant about safeguarding China’s rights and interests in the South China Sea. All calculating moves against that would end up in failure.

The second editorial, China’s Sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands Brooks No Denial, offers more of a legal and factual argument.  Interestingly, the editorial relies heavily on the legal force of the 1943 Cairo Declaration and the 1945 Potsdam Declaration as the basis for China’s South China Sea claims over the disputed Spratly/Nansha Islands.  The theory here is that the Spratly/Nansha islands belonged to China, and that Japan forcibly occupied them during WWII.  Cairo and Potsdam required Japan to return all “stolen” territories, ergo, the South China Sea islands go back to China.

The Philippines (apparently) argued at the merits hearing that the Nansha Islands were “terra nullius” and were not included in the “stolen” territories that Japan had to return to China.  Moreover, the Philippines argued that the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations were not legally binding.

China responds with a factual claim (China has always had sovereignty over the islands) as well as legal claim (the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations are legally binding). This latter argument is not precisely accurate, although it is true that Japan promised to comply with Potsdam in its surrender.  But none of this changes the fact that neither Cairo nor Potsdam say anything about the Spratlys/Nansha specifically, and seem a weak legal basis for China’s claims to those islands.

In any event, the editorial is largely rhetorical rather than legal. It concludes by rallying the Chinese people against mysterious international forces threatening their sovereignty:

[T]he determination of the Chinese people to safeguard its territorial integrity is as firm as a rock. Only the Chinese people have the final say when it comes to China’s territory. Any attempt to negate China’s sovereignty, rights and interests through a so-called “arbitration award” will be nothing but wishful thinking, just like flowers in a mirror and reflection of the moon in water. By going back on its own words and confusing the concepts for the purpose of territorial expansion, the Philippines will only end up bringing disgrace on itself.

Gotta love the metaphors, although I doubt very much the Arbitral Tribunal will be in any way moved by them.