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:
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)
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.