It’s safe to say China’s leadership doesn’t think highly of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague. The international tribunal will issue a ruling on July 12 that could invalidate China’s sweeping territorial claims to most of the South China Sea, a strategically important waterway rich in natural resources.
Ahead of that ruling, China’s leaders have come up with a variety of ways to try to discredit the tribunal and its upcoming decision.
Last week state-controlled media ran articles describing the PCA as a “law-abusing tribunal” with “widely contested jurisdiction.” In May, senior diplomat Xu Hong said the tribunal of acted unjustly by taking up the case.
And as for the upcoming ruling? It will be nothing more than a “piece of trash paper,” said former state councillor Dai Bingguo in Washington Tuesday (July 5) at a dialog hosted by US and Chinese think tanks. He added:
First, the urgent priority is to stop the arbitration case initiated by the Philippines. If the tribunal insisted on its way and produced an “award,” no one and no country should implement the award in any form, much less to force China into implementation… The arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction over this case.
“China sees itself as a global super power that shouldn’t be questioned,” says Anders Corr of Corr Analytics. “So here they have this sort of upstart court out in the middle of nowhere that is somehow challenging their historical claim, and they see that as impudent. China reacts intensely against any country or any organization, whether it be the UN or an international court, that’s trying to impinge on what it sees as its backyard.”
Sonya Sceats, an associate fellow of international law at Chatham House, believes China’s fury over the case belies legal insecurities. But she notes Beijing is on a hiring spree of international lawyers and is gearing up to play a bigger role in international law.
Meanwhile, a sense of paranoia can be detected in China’s attacks on the tribunal. An editorial in the state-controlled Global Times described the ruling (link in Chinese) as “obviously American-back and supported” and said the court was “playing the fool,” pretending to not know that the Philippines was trying to do: use the tribunal to claim territory. The proceedings, it said, were a trap laid out to discredit China.
Beijing also complained that a Japanese citizen participated in the formation of the tribunal, saying that’s inappropriate because Japan has its own maritime disputes with China. When the Philippines filed the case in early 2013, Shunji Yanai was president of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. Because China refused to participate in the case, the president, per standard procedure, chose two judges on China’s behalf to sit on the five-judge tribunal. (Yanai himself did not sit on the tribunal.)
Last week Hong Lei, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said the entire case was “an abuse of international law and the international arbitration mechanism.”
He added—in case anyone had missed it—that China would not accept the verdict.
—Echo Huang contributed reporting