By ERWIN CHLANDA
More than 1000 people who describe themselves as ethnic Chinese demonstrated in Melbourne this morning, sending a message to the Australian government not “to be used as a pawn of America’s hegemony strategy”.
The crowd marched through the city’s CBD over the recent determination of a UN tribunal that found in favour of the Philippines against China over its conduct in the South China Sea.
AT RIGHT: The Chinese and the Australian flags flying together at this morning’s demonstration.
And while the placards this morning extolled “justice, truth and peace” there were unmistakable hints that things could get nasty, with statements that the Philippines had “unilaterally abandoned the means of solving this dispute through negotiation,” that this is “causing warships to gather there [fore]shadowing likely wars” and that “for the strategic purpose of containing the rise of China, Japan and the US have manipulated certain countries and created a series of incidents impeding the peaceful resolution”.
Alice Springs may well be 2255 km from Melbourne, but Darwin port, now Chinese-owned for 99 years, is a lot closer than that, and Pine Gap – undergoing a rebirth as a suspected nuclear target – is just 19 km away.
This morning protesters’ thoughts were not far from armed conflict, and Territorians, who now have ‘skin in the game’ thanks to the Darwin port decision, should be aware of the tensions currently building.
“For many Australians it doesn’t require an excellent memory to recollect the wrong Iraqi war in which millions of lives perished not so long ago,” said a pamphlet handed out by the protesters – almost all well-dressed, with a middle-class to affluent appearance, conducting the protest with gusto but nonetheless orderly.
And to dispel any suspicions that this was an insignificant minority in the streets of Melbourne, a Chinese website supported the sentiments expressed with a statement signed by 169 Chinese organisations and 15 media outlets, all located in Australia.
The Chinese are claiming that the Philippines are acting contrary to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, adopted by the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and the People’s Republic of China and signed by the Philippines.
“The parties reaffirm their commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” says the declaration.
But the Philippines say they called in the UN because – amidst “continuing intrusions by China” – they weren’t getting anywhere: “Despite more than seventeen years of consultations, no progress has been made to achieve negotiated solutions,” says its embassy.
China was claiming “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea and it had “become impossible to continue bilateral discussions,” say the Philippines.
And China has stated that “the Philippines’ claim that it had exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful settlement of dispute is completely not true.”
The tribunal, constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources in excess of the rights provided for by the Convention, within the sea areas falling within the “nine-dash line”.
That is the demarcation line used initially by the government of the Republic of China (ROC and Taiwan) and subsequently also by the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), for their claims of the major part of the South China Sea.
Says the tribunal about the partly artificial islands constructed by China: “Features that are submerged at high tide generate no entitlement to maritime zones.
“The Tribunal noted that many of the reefs in the South China Sea have been heavily modified by recent land reclamation and construction and recalled that the Convention classifies features on the basis of their natural condition.
“But rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
“Temporary use of the features by fishermen did not amount to inhabitation by a stable community and that all of the historical economic activity had been extractive in nature.
“Accordingly, the Tribunal concluded that all of the high-tide features in the Spratly Islands are legally ‘rocks’ that do not generate an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
“The Tribunal considered the lawfulness of the conduct of Chinese law enforcement vessels at Scarborough Shoal on two occasions in April and May 2012 when Chinese vessels had sought to physically obstruct Philippine vessels from approaching or gaining entrance to the Shoal.
“The Tribunal found that Chinese law enforcement vessels had repeatedly approached the Philippine vessels at high speed and sought to cross ahead of them at close distances, creating serious risk of collision and danger to Philippine ships and personnel.
“The Tribunal concluded that China had breached its obligations under the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972, and Article 94 the Convention concerning maritime safety.”
While the tribunal’s decision is “binding,” even though China did not participate in the process, it is widely assumed not to be enforceable.