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Asia-Pacific

Japan and Korea Take Their (History) Wars to U.S. State and Local Legislatures

by Julian Ku

A lawsuit filed yesterday in California federal court seeks the removal of a statue in a Glendale, California public park honoring women victimized by the Japanese military during World War II.  The placement of the statue was approved by the local city council with the strong support of Korean and Korean-Americans who want to recognize the suffering of the “comfort women”. The lawsuit appears to claim as one of its arguments that the local city council is interfering in national foreign affairs in violation of the US Constitution.

This lawsuit is only the latest front in a spreading battle between Korean and Korean-American groups and the Japanese government in various state and local legislatures.  In Virginia, the state legislature (again with strong Korean-American voters support) passed legislation requiring textbooks in public schools to note that the Sea of Japan is also called the “East Sea.”  New Jersey is considering similar legislation, and already has its own “comfort women” memorial.

As a legal matter, I can say with high confidence there is no serious argument that the placement of a statue in a public park, or the rewording of textbooks, violates the federal government’s foreign affairs authority under the Constitution.  No legal rights of foreign nationals are involved, nor is this a matter traditionally handled by the national government, nor does the US-Japan Treaty of Peace preempt this action.  So this aspect of the anti-memorial folks’ lawsuit seems pretty hopeless and borderline frivolous.

I am less sure about the policy benefits of this type of activity.  For US legislators this is just a cheap and easy way to get support from a growing voter population.  China’s government has tried a similar strategy to garner Korean friendship on a much grander scale when it put up a huge memorial to a early-twentieth-century Korean anti-Japanese revolutionary.  But those actions are purely out of self-interest.

On the other hand, all of this seems like a relatively gentle way to prod the Japanese on these issues.   In any event, expect to see more action at the state and local level in the U.S. One hopes (although this seems a vain hope) that this activity might even spark some useful Korean-Japanese debate on matters that they can’t seem to talk about much back in Asia.

Someone (Prof. Stefan Talmon) Finally Makes An Argument In Favor of China in the Philippines UNCLOS Arbitration

by Julian Ku

One of the most frustrating things about China’s response to the Philippines arbitration has been the brevity of its legal discussion and analysis.  In particular, I’ve long thought that China had a pretty good argument that the Annex VII UNCLOS arbitral tribunal does not have jurisdiction over the dispute since, in many ways, territorial disputes are at the heart of the Philippines’ case.

But neither the government nor Chinese scholars have offered much flesh to this argument.  The closest statement I’ve seen was Judge Xue Hanqin’s impromptu remarks at the Asian Society of International Law conference last fall and a very brief Global Times essay.. But all that has now changed due to a book chapter  released by Professor Stefan Talmon of the University of Bonn.  From his abstract:

The chapter examines whether the Tribunal has jurisdiction to hear the case, whether the claims brought by the Philippines are admissible and whether there are any other objections which the tribunal will have to decide as a preliminary matter. It aims to offer a (not the) Chinese perspective on some of the issues to be decided by the Tribunal. The chapter is to serve as a kind of amicus curiae brief advancing possible legal arguments on behalf of the absent respondent. It shows that there are insurmountable preliminary objections to the Tribunal deciding the case on the merits and that the Tribunal would be well advised to refer the dispute back to the parties in order for them to reach a negotiated settlement.

I’ve only taken a quick look at Prof. Talmon’s pretty comprehensive discussion, and it really does read like an “amicus brief” for China on the question of jurisdiction.  I will have to consider more carefully Prof. Talmon’s claim that the 9-Dash Line claim can fit into the “historic waters” exception to jurisdiction, but overall it seems like a very careful and persuasive treatment.

For the First Time, U.S. Says China’s South China Sea Nine Dash Line is Inconsistent with International Law

by Julian Ku

As Jeffrey Bader of Brookings notes, the U.S. government has, for the first time, publicly rejected the legality of China’s “Nine Dash Line” claim in the South China Sea (for a little background on the unusual Nine Dash Line, see an earlier post here). This is a semi-big deal as it shows how the US is going to use international law as a sword to challenge China’s actions in this region.

During testimony before Congress, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel stated:

Under international law, maritime claims in the South China Sea must be derived from land features. Any use of the ‘nine-dash line’ by China to claim maritime rights not based on claimed land features would be inconsistent with international law. The international community would welcome China to clarify or adjust its nine-dash line claim to bring it in accordance with the international law of the sea.

It is actually surprising that the U.S. government has never actually publicly stated this argument before, since the Russel statement fits comfortably within the U.S. government’s long-standing positions on the nature of maritime territorial claims.  And China could not have been unaware of US views on its 9-dash-line claim. But the U.S. also likes to repeat that it takes no position on any sovereignty disputes, and since the Nine Dash Line is sort of a sovereignty claim, it has always been a little unclear whether the US was neutral on the Nine-Dash Line as well.

Russel’s statement ends this ambiguity, and also offers more explanation on how the US “neutrality” in sovereignty disputes does not mean that it has no view on how those disputes would be resolved.

I think it is imperative that we be clear about what we mean when the United States says that we take no position on competing claims to sovereignty over disputed land features in the East China and South China Seas. First of all, we do take a strong position with regard to behavior in connection with any claims: we firmly oppose the use of intimidation, coercion or force to assert a territorial claim. Second, we do take a strong position that maritime claims must accord with customary international law.

Again, I can’t imagine this is a new US government position, but it is useful to make it clear publicly.

By tying itself to customary international law, the U.S. is challenging China to try to fit its Nine Dash Line into the legal framework created by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  Even some clarification from China as to the legal basis for its Nine Dash Line would be helpful, since it would shift the burden on China to explain its legal position.

Moreover, the US government is also offering a legal roadmap for other countries that are not claimants in the region. It is hardly a controversial legal position, and should be fairly easy for the EU, Canada, or Australia to adopt (assuming they don’t mind tweaking China).

Having wedded itself to international law, the US will now have to see whether China will start making non-legal claims or even noises about withdrawing from UNCLOS.  The law definitely is not on China’s side here, but that doesn’t mean that China is going to back down in the SCS.

China’s Crackdown on the Uighurs and the Case of Ilham Tohti

by Chris Borgen

The New York Times reports that  Ilham Tohti, a Uighur economics professor, has been arrested by Chinese authorities for separatism and inciting ethnic hatred.  A number of his students are also seemingly being detained. Tohti is just one person and, perhaps unfortunately for him, his case is emblematic of larger regional tensions in China and Central Asia.

The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking ethnic group, about 80% of whom live in the southwestern part of the Xianjian Uighur Autonomous Region in Western China.  Xianjiang is a geopolitical crossroads  and is also important for China’s energy policy, with significant oil and natural gas reserves.   Moreover, a Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder on Xianjian and the Uighurs explains that

Xinjiang shares borders with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and the Tibet Autonomous Region, some of which have minority communities of Uighurs. Because of the Uighurs’ cultural ties to its neighbors, China has been concerned that Central Asian states may back a separatist movement in Xinjiang.

The CFR also gives a précis of the last century:

Since the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, Xinjiang has enjoyed varying degrees of autonomy. Turkic rebels in Xinjiang declared independence in October 1933 and created the Islamic Republic of East Turkistan (also known as the Republic of Uighuristan or the First East Turkistan Republic). The following year, the Republic of China reabsorbed the region. In 1944, factions within Xinjiang again declared independence, this time under the auspices of the Soviet Union, and created the Second East Turkistan Republic.

In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party took over the territory and declared it a Chinese province. In October 1955, Xinjiang became classified as an “autonomous region” of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese government in its white paper on Xinjiang says Xinjiang had been an “inseparable part of the unitary multi-ethnic Chinese nation” since the Western Han Dynasty, which ruled from 206 BCE to 24 AD.

And then we come to the story of Ilham Tohti, the economics professor.  The New York Times reports:

A vocal advocate for China’s embattled Uighur minority, Mr. Tohti, 44, was the rare public figure willing to speak to the foreign news media about the Chinese government’s policies in the vast region that borders several Central Asian countries. He was also the target of frequent harassment by the Chinese authorities, especially after he helped establish Uighurbiz.net, a website for news and commentary on Uighur issues.

There has been unrest in China’s west over the past year

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Will Ratifying UNCLOS Help the U.S. Manage China? I Doubt It

by Julian Ku

A subcommittee of the  U.S. House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee held a much-needed hearing to educate themselves on China’s recent activity in the East and South China Seas.  Professor Peter Dutton of the Naval War College, along with two other experts on Asian affairs, gave interesting and useful testimony on the nature of China’s maritime disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Asian countries.

There is a lot of interesting stuff here, but my attention was particularly caught by Professor Dutton’s recommendation (seconded by Bonnie Glaeser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies) that the U.S. ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as part of a multifaceted strategy to manage China’s sort-of-aggressive strategy to expand its power and influence in the region.  Here is Professor Dutton’s argument:

Accordingly, to ensure its future position in East Asia, the United States should take specific actions to defend the international legal architecture pertaining to the maritime and aerial commons. Acceding to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and once again exercising direct leadership over the development of its rules and norms is the first and most critical step. The Department of State should also re-energize its Limits in the Seas series to publicly and repeatedly reinforce international law related to sea and airspace. A good place to begin the new series would be with a detailed assessment of why international law explicitly rejects China’s U-shaped line in the South China Sea as the basis for Chinese jurisdiction there. Others could be written to describe why China’s East China Sea continental shelf claim misapplies international law and why China’s ADIZ unlawfully asserts jurisdiction in the airspace. My sense is that East Asian states, indeed many states around the world, are desperate for active American leadership over the norms and laws that govern legitimate international action.

I understand the force of this argument. The U.S. already adheres the key principles in UNCLOS, so joining UNCLOS will allow the U.S. to push back more effectively against China’s aggressive and expansionary activities.

But is there really any evidence that formal accession would change China’s view of the U.S. position on UNCLOS issues?  China is already a member of UNCLOS and other countries (like Japan and the Philippines) are also members of UNCLOS. But I don’t think UNCLOS has really bolstered their effectiveness in pushing back against China.  Moreover, as Professor Dutton explains, China has a radically different interpretation of its authority to regulate foreign ships and aircraft in its Exclusive Economic Zone under UNCLOS.  How will joining UNCLOS help the U.S. change China’s interpretation of UNCLOS?

As a practical matter, UNCLOS does have a way of compelling member states to conform their interpretations: mandatory dispute settlement in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or in Annex VII arbitration.  But as China and Russia have demonstrated in recent years, these mechanisms are not likely to be a serious constraint, especially on questions that touch sovereignty (which is how China frames most of its activities).  I suppose if the U.S. joins UNCLOS, and subjects itself to UNCLOS dispute settlement, that might make a difference.  But I don’t think it would be a very large one (after all, Japan, China, and the Philippines are all already subject to UNCLOS dispute settlement, which has accomplished little so far).

I should add that the U.S. joining UNCLOS is hardly the most prominent of Professor Dutton’s recommendations.  His (and his co-panelists) had lots of good strategic policy recommendations.  I think the law may be important here, but I am skeptical that it will be as effective as he (and many analysts) are hoping.

Why the U.S. State Department Deserves an “F” on their Handling of the Indian Consul Flap

by Julian Ku

It looks like the U.S. and India have worked out a sort-of deal to end the battle over visa-fraud charges brought against India’s deputy consul-general in New York Devyani Khobragade.  Yesterday, a U.S. grand jury indicted Khobragade on the visa-fraud charges, and shortly thereafter, Khobragade was allowed to leave the U.S. for India.  India is now retaliating by demanding the U.S. withdraw a U.S. diplomat from India.

From a purely legal perspective, this is a smart move by the U.S. since even if it had continued with the prosecution, Khobragade would be able to raise a variety of defenses based on her possible status as a diplomat accredited at India’s UN Mission at the time of her arrest, or at least her status at the Mission now.  I think those defenses are decent (though hardly slam-dunk) and, if rejected, would further inflame India as well as create unwelcome precedents for US consuls and diplomats abroad.

Of course, from a diplomatic perspective, it seems clear to me that this prosecution should never have been brought, or at least there should never have been an “arrest” (much less the strip-search).  Why couldn’t the U.S. have indicted her without arresting her, or even just demanded her withdrawal without indicting her?  That is effectively what has happened anyway, except that we also get a crisis in US-India relations like we haven’t had in decades.

I’m putting the blame here almost completely on the U.S. State Department. They (supposedly) had notice that this arrest was going to happen, and they did not take steps to head off a pretty serious diplomatic incident.  Dealing with foreign diplomats is at the heart of what they do.  And they couldn’t have predicted what happened here?  C’mon Secretary Kerry, hold someone responsible!

I’ve just finished my grades from last semester (yes I know, I’m late!).  But I have no problem giving the U.S. State Department an “F” here.

Exploring International Law with Opinio Juris in 2013: Highways, Back Roads, and Uncharted Territories…

by Chris Borgen

There’s never a boring year in international law and 2013 turned out to be particularly eventful: Syria, major cases in front of national and international courts, a possible nuclear deal with Iran, and turmoil in Eastern Europe, Egypt, and South Sudan, to name but a few reasons.

This post is not an attempt to log all that we have written about on Opinio Juris this year. There’s just too much.  If any of these topics (or others) are of particular interest to you, you can use our search function to find the posts related to them.  Rather, this post is an idiosyncratic tour of some of the highways, back roads, and other territory that we traversed in 2013… (Continue Reading)

Does the U.S. Congress Have to Approve the New WTO Agreement? Apparently Not.

by Julian Ku

Simon Lester of the IELP Blog raises an interesting and possibly important point about the new WTO Agreement just reached in Bali.  In order for the U.S. to enter into the agreement, will the U.S. Congress have to approve it?

On first glance, the answer would seem to be: “yes” since the U.S. Congress invariably is required to approve all U.S. trade agreements (as opposed to just the Senate, if it were a treaty).  In any event, I would have thought the U.S. Congress would have to approve the new Bali agreement as new legislation.  But then Simon points out this comment by U.S. trade officials from Inside U.S. Trade:

At the press conference, Punke said the Obama administration does not believe the deal requires congressional approval. “Our analysis of the trade facilitation agreement is it can be effectuated through administrative means and would not require legislation to put it into force,” he said. The obligations of the trade facilitation agreement are enforceable under the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding.

This makes sense if one thinks of congressional approval of executive agreements as simply implementation of international obligations into domestic U.S. law.  But the congressional role in trade agreements has also been understood to fill in for the role of the U.S. Senate in approving treaties even if those treaties have no domestic law impact.  For U.S. law purposes, the President can’t enter into a treaty unless the Senate gives its advice and consent.  In the trade agreement context, I think many scholars have thought that Congress’ approval of those agreements by a majority of both houses serves the same role of giving the input of the legislature on the President’s decisions to enter into international agreements.

Or perhaps not.  Maybe the President really is free to bind the U.S. under international law via executive agreement on trade matters without any approval of Congress as long as no domestic law change is needed. This means that trade agreements really are just sole executive agreements that Congress is not really approving, but just implementing into U.S. domestic law.  And if no implementation is required, no Congress. This makes sense, but I just don’t think this the common understanding of how or why these congressional-executive agreements work.

One way out of this problem is (as Simon also points out) to understand the Bali Agreement as an amendment to the WTO Agreement. That agreement  (in Art. X) specifically outlines a mechanism for amendment which requires “consensus” (e.g. unanimity) or (depending on which provision is being affected) a two-thirds vote of the Ministerial Conference. In this way, Congress may be understood to have already approved future amendments to the WTO Agreement when it “approved” the original WTO Agreement back in 1994.  This “delegation” theory is probably a better explanation of why no congressional approval qua approval is needed for the Bali Agreement. Not totally satisfying, but probably enough here.

Why the U.S. is Not Invoking International Law to Oppose China’s ADIZ

by Julian Ku

China’s East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) has spawned tons of media commentary, so much so that I have had little to add and can barely keep up with all the coverage. Still, there is one small legal point that bears some further discussion.  While I think the U.S. is correct as a matter of policy to push back against China’s ADIZ, the legal framework underlying the U.S. position is awkward and borderline incoherent.  In fact, the confusing U.S. legal position may explain why the U.S. is not sympatico with Japan on China’s ADIZ.  Let me explain.

It is worth noting that U.S. has not condemned China’s ADIZ as a violation of international law. Instead, the U.S. has called it “unacceptable” and a change in the “status quo”.  Meanwhile, the Chinese have wielded international law as a rhetorical weapon on their side, by citing the U.N. Charter from the outset.  This may seem odd, but in fact, the Chinese are sort of right about this.

As Peter Dutton notes in his AJIL article, establishing an ADIZ is not in itself a violation of international law,  Indeed, it is usually justified by a need to create an early warning system to protect national airspace.  China’s ADIZ seems pretty large (map can be found here), and the U.S has rightly complained that aircraft just transiting the ADIZ should not be subject to China’s requirements if those airlines are not planning to enter (or even come near to) Chinese national airspace.

But China’s ADIZ is carefully drawn to include two sets of islands/rocks that it claims as sovereign territory: the Senkakus/Diaoyu (also claimed by Japan) and the Ieodo/Suyan Rock (also claimed by South Korea).  To the extent those territories are “national airspace”, China can argue that it should be allowed to draw an ADIZ around them to ensure any airplanes coming near them will not enter that airspace, etc.  As Zachary Keck suggests, China is using the ADIZ to subtly build its legal claim to sovereignty over the Senkakus/Diaoyu Islands. Hence, China is probably invoking the UN Charter’s self-defense provision to justify its ADIZ and its need for all foreign aircraft to report flight info/etc. when entering the ADIZ.  (Some commenters to my first post have suggested China can’t invoke self-defense over a disputed territory, or uninhabited islands that don’t otherwise threaten its national airspace.  I am not sure the customary practice is clear on this, since Japan’s ADIZ, which also covers the Senkakus/Diaoyu, couldn’t be justified either under this view. Also, for the purposes of this post, I am assuming China has a plausible claim to the islands).

Seen from this perspective (at least vis-a-vis the U.S.), China’s ADIZ is not inconsistent with any existing international agreement or customary legal rule.  This is largely because of the strange and confusing U.S. position on the sovereignty over the Senkakus/Diaoyu Islands.  The U.S. does not take any official position on which country (China, Taiwan, or Japan) has sovereignty over these islands.  But it recognizes that Japan has administration over them (indeed, it was the U.S. that turned them over to Japan back in 1972) and the U.S. has repeatedly declared that such islands fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japan Defense Treaty.But since the U.S. does not recognize Japanese sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, why should it complain when China draws an ADIZ intended to protect airspace over those islands?

This wrinkle in the U.S. position also explains Japan’s harsher reaction to the Chinese ADIZ. To Japan, China is literally demanding Japanese airlines report to its military before crossing airspace into or near Japan’s own national airspace.  It would be like China demanding information from US airlines flying between San Francisco and Hawaii (Congress would explode with indignation).  But from the U.S. perspective, China is just demanding information about airlines flying near disputed airspace that may or may not be part of China anyway.  This is a threat to freedom of international air navigation, but it is not anything like the same kind of affront to sovereignty that it is to the Japanese.

The U.S. position would be more legally coherent if it would simply recognize Japan’s sovereignty over the Senkakus/Diaoyu.  After all, if the U.S. Navy is willing to fight and die for these islands, the U.S. should at least decide whose owns these islands. (If China creates an ADIZ in the South China Sea, the U.S. will also have the same dilemma. See Michael Kelly’s recent essay on the strategic implications of such an ADIZ).  China is subtly probing the U.S. position here, and it has opened up a slight wedge between the U.S. and Japan.  But this wedge is a result of contradictions in the U.S. legal position, not China’s clever diplomacy.

Does the WTO need a New Agreement to Save its Dispute Settlement System?

by Julian Ku

The WTO’s new Director-General Roberto Azevedo is celebrating a rare event:  The WTO’s entire 159-country membership has finally reached  a new multilateral agreement.  This is the first time that the WTO’s membership as a whole (as opposed to smaller groups of its member states) has reached an agreement since it was formed in 1994 and the first set of agreements under the so-called “Doha” round of negotiations that has been going on since 2001.  Most commentary in the United States and elsewhere describe this as a pretty small-bore agreement on trade facilitation and agriculture (especially given the scope of the original agenda under Doha).

I am intrigued by some commentary coming out of Bali to the effect that a new agreement is needed to keep the WTO relevant and legitimate in the eyes of its members.  The WSJ has this unattributed comment:

Some negotiators said the limited pact gives the WTO credibility to continue its other main role: as an arbiter of trade disputes.

The WTO works by consensus and the breakdown of the talks could also have hurt the organization’s dispute-settling mechanism, they said.

I guess I am skeptical that the lack of progress on  new agreements will have any serious impact on the ability of the WTO’s famous dispute settlement body to stay relevant.  With or without the new agreement, the WTO is already an immensely deep and complex web of legal obligations for a larger and larger set of members. Interpreting these obligations, and managing disputes, is probably significant enough to most members that they don’t feel like they need a new agreement to stay engaged.

Anyway, the Bali agreement is only a “draft ministerial declaration” which needs to be formalized next year.  Then, the U.S. Congress will have a chance to vote on it (and probably the Asian and European regional trade deals).  This ought to be loads of fun in a congressional election year.  At least they don’t have to get two-thirds of the U.S. Senate on board.

Meanwhile, China Draws a Provocative, Dangerous, But Perfectly Legal Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea

by Julian Ku

£¨Í¼±í£©[¶«º£·À¿Õʶ±ðÇø]¶«º£·À¿Õʶ±ðÇø»®ÉèʾÒâͼI don’t have any insights to offer on the big news this weekend, that legally-non binding-UNSC-resolution-violating agreement in Geneva.  But I did want to note one other big sort-of-law news item from the other side of the world: China’s announcement that it is drawing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, including over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

China’s announcement has riled up both Japan (which has declared it “totally unacceptable”) and the United States (which has expressed “deep concerns.”)

Why all the fuss? China’s new ADIZ appears to overlap with Japan’s own ADIZ in some crucial places (like the Senkakus/Diaoyu) as well as South Korea’s and Taiwan’s.  China has declared that aircraft entering its ADIZ must report flight information to Chinese authorities (actually, its military) and (here’s the scary part), “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions.”  The U.S. is already hinting that it will test this resolve by flying aircraft through the ADIZ.  (Wonder which lucky US pilot draws that mission!)

Although provocative and dangerous, it seem clear to me that China’s ADIZ does not violate international law.  Indeed, China’s Foreign Ministry was perfectly correct today in its claim that its ADIZ is consistent with “the U.N. Charter and related state practice.”  Countries (led by the U.S.) have long drawn ADIZs beyond their national sovereign airspace as a measure to protect their national airspace.  This practice, although not exactly blessed by any treaty, does not appear to violate either the Chicago Convention or UNCLOS.  (See Peter Dutton’s very solid review of ADIZs here in the American Journal of International Law for a good discussion on this point).

If China has sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands, then it is perfectly legal for it to declare an ADIZ beyond those islands to protect the airspace above those islands.  It is a little less clear why China needs the rest of the ADIZ, but it is presumably aimed at protecting its national airspace.  The U.S. State Department has already offered China an interpretive out of creating unnecessary conflict:

The United States does not apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. national airspace. We urge China not to implement its threat to take action against aircraft that do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing.

Now the accuracy of this description of US practice could be questioned, but it is probably right. In recent years, the U.S. has allowed Russian bombers to fly through its ADIZ over Alaska.  If China follows this practice, this could help a great deal to diffuse tensions. One can only hope. Early signs are not promising,as China has essentially told the U.S. to shut up and butt out of this issue.

China’s ICJ Judge Xue Hanqin Publicly Defends China’s Non-Participation in UNCLOS Arbitration [Updated]

by Julian Ku

xue

[This Post has been updated]. One of the main benefits of attending a conference (rather than just reading descriptions of its proceedings), is the chance to have face-to-face exchanges with individuals you normally never get a chance to meet.  One of the unusual aspects of the Asian Society of International Law is that it draws lawyers from many different Asian countries, even Asian countries locked into disputes with each other.  Like the Philippines…and China.

Which is why I was so pleased to witness a frank exchange last week at AsianSIL’s biennial conference in New Delhi, India between two unofficial but influential representatives of each country’s legal positions in the upcoming Philippines-China UNCLOS arbitration. In one corner, Prof. Harry Roque from the University of the Philippines presented a relatively even description of the Philippines’ claim against China during a panel on the Law of the Sea in Asia (click here for his blogging on this same event).  In the other corner, was Judge Xue Hanqin, China’s member of the International Court of Justice.  Although she was not listed as a panel participant, she stood up after Prof. Roque’s presentation to offer a 15-minute extemporaneous defense of China’s position.

Judge Xue is no longer officially affiliated with the Chinese government, but she has served in high diplomatic positions before her current post.  One of her prior positions, indeed, was as China’s Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) where she was involved in negotiations with Vietnam over maritime rights.  Moreover, she has served a general legal adviser to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including on its submission to the ICJ in the Kosovo advisory proceeding.  Her views are likely to be close or the same as the views of the Chinese government on these issues.  Since the Chinese government has offered almost no official explanation of its legal position, her statement may be the best we will get from China in the near future.[*UPDATE: On the other hand, Judge Xue wants to make clear she is not representing China in any official or unofficial capacity and that she does not endorse the summary of her views below. See below for her full disclaimer].

The following is based on my notes of her presentation. They are necessarily incomplete, but hopefully a fair summary of her views.