Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines will not elevate the West Philippine Sea (WPS) dispute to the United Nations since China has “all the votes in the UN” (PDI, 07/23/2020 ). Actually, the odds are stacked against China in this dispute.
There are 193 UN member nations; 48 are landlocked while 145 have access to the sea. The landlocked countries did not benefit from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), while the 145 littoral states gained as follows: The traditional territorial limit of 3 miles was extended to 12 miles, plus an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 miles and a continental shelf of up to 350 miles. Each littoral country has the right to exploit both natural and aquatic resources in this expanded area. These littoral states are our captive supporters.
Since our dispute with China concerns the benefits of Unclos, almost all the 145 littoral states will readily support a resolution upholding these provisions. Diminution of our benefits under Unclos will also apply to them unless they support us. China will have the unenviable task of convincing these states to vote against their national interest by foregoing the benefits they had gained under Unclos.
The dispute also affects freedom of navigation, making it a power politics issue. The US, Great Britain, and France as maritime powers will unite to uphold freedom of navigation in the WPS. China’s disadvantage on this matter should be noted. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had satellite states; China has no such allies today.
Even in the case of the landlocked states, China will have slim pickings. The US will influence the votes of the nations in the Americas. There are only two landlocked countries in the region, Bolivia and Paraguay. The departure of the leftist Evo Morales as Bolivian president means both countries will likely align with the US position. The only sure votes for China from this region would be Cuba, Venezuela, and probably Nicaragua.
In Africa, there are 16 landlocked countries, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa like Chad, Mali, the Central African Republic, etc. These countries get substantial foreign aid from their former colonial rulers, France and Britain. The French has periodically intervened in maintaining internal order in its former colonies. Thus, China will have difficulty getting the support of these 16 countries.
In Asia, there are 12 landlocked countries. This is probably the only region where China could get the majority vote of the landlocked countries. However, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, etc., are predominantly Muslim countries. There are reports that citizens of these countries have been incarcerated in Chinese “reeducation centers” together with the Uyghurs. Thus, there will also be some uncertainty on the votes of these countries. How long will these Muslim countries stand aside in the face of the Chinese repression of their fellow Uyghur Muslims?
Our submission to the UN will cite the blockade of Ayungin Shoal as a “threat to peace.” A blockade is an act of war under international law. China will use its veto power in the Security Council to block such a resolution. However, we could shift the issue to the General Assembly under the “Uniting for Peace Resolution” where all UN members vote. As noted above, this should win the endorsement of the majority of the UN members. The timing of the complaint also counts. Beijing’s covert actions on the COVID-19 pandemic could also translate into additional votes against China.Given the above facts, it is inept diplomacy on our part not to elevate the WPS issue to the UN. China can win this dispute only if the world leaders suffer a collective mental lapse and adopt the Duterte capitulation, giving China the chance to encroach on the territorial domain granted to them under Unclos in exchange for the promise to give them the COVID-19 vaccine, if ever that is developed. In the meantime, our foreign policy remains surrounded by a bodyguard of lies (“Our foreign policy needs bodyguards,” PDI, 10/27/17).
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Hermenegildo C. Cruz is a retired career diplomat who served as ambassador to the UN, Bolivia, Chile, and the Soviet Union. He has a graduate degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
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