The three nations which got together to create a ‘coalition’ that engaged in ‘precision strikes’ in Syria back in April are getting together again, this time the intended target is China.
In Syria, there was a tweet showing a video which was posted by a group which actively works with and around al-Nusra and ISIS terrorists and which video contents or origin was never verified.
Nevertheless, the claim was that a chemical attack had occurred and the site was Douma, where the Syrian government forces were gaining ground against the jihadists. So the story was that the Syrian government had carried out a chemical attack in Douma, and that the attack led to the deaths of nearly 600 people. And then, the leadership of Britain, France, and the US came out claiming that they had proof that Syria was ‘likely’ to have carried out a chemical attack in Douma on April 7th.
An OPCW investigation was called for and was dispatched, but the ‘coalition’ carried out a military strike on Damascus and surrounding areas hours before that investigation could be initiated. So, the allegations were that Syria had broken international law and that swift punishment was coming from a self appointed coalition before an independent investigation could be conducted.
That coalition, however, was breaking international law by carrying out a military strike without independently acquired evidence, and without a UNSC mandate, so they were breaking international law to punish the breaking of international law. But that works out well for Trump, May, and Macron.
Now, they’re claiming a breach of international law in the South China Sea, and they want to strutt about the area knowingly antagonizing the Chinese, instead of taking the matter up in a diplomatic fashion.
Deutsche Welle reports:
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis is in China this week for the first time and at the top of the agenda between the two nations is China’s continued expansion of military installations in the South China Sea (SCS).
After Mattis met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported that Xi told Mattis China would not “lose one inch” of territory “left behind by our ancestors.”
China frequently refers to islands in the SCS as part of its historical territory, although they are claimed by six other nations.
“Regarding China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, our attitude is firm and clear,” said Xi.
In early June at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security conference in Singapore, Mattis told the audience that there would be “much larger consequences” in response to China’s continued installation of military infrastructure on disputed islands in the SCS.
Joining the revamped US effort to increase pressure on China in the SCS, French Defense Minster Florence Parly said a French maritime task group, together with UK helicopters and ships, would conduct freedom of navigation operations, sailing naval vessels through international waters in the SCS, which China considers as its maritime territory.
Referring to the political differences between France and Britain, Parly said in a speech that when meeting in Asia, the two countries shared deeply significant “vision, strength and values” along with a “willingness to project them.”
Parly added that France supported a rules-based international order on the SCS and that freedom of navigation must be upheld.
“France fully supports a code of conduct in the South China Sea, which should be legally binding, comprehensive, effective and consistent with international law,” said Parly. “We should be very clear that the fait accompli is not a fait accepted.”
Freedom of navigation
By building military installations on islands in the SCS, China claims territorial sovereignty over areas far from the mainland, although this is not officially recognized by any international body. The freedom of navigation operations carried out by the US and other navies are a way to demonstrate the validity of international law.
China remains defiant in claiming international waters and is using its growing navy to enforce its territorial ambition.
Jonas Parello-Plesner, an observer who was aboard a French military vessel during the joint freedom of navigation operation announced at the Singapore conference, gave a first hand account to the Wall Street Journal of the flotilla’s encounter with the Chinese navy near the Spratly Islands.
Parello-Plesner reported that a Chinese frigate contacted the French vessel by radio as they passed through Mischief, Subi and Fiery Cross Reefs, where China in recent years has built artificial islands and military installations.
“This is China warship calling. The Nansha islands are under Chinese sovereignty. What are your intentions?” After the French captain replied that they were lawfully sailing through international waters, they were tailed by Chinese naval vessels.
A Chinese lake?
It is estimate that in 2014, China began construction of artificial islands on reefs in the Spratly archipelago. This raised alarm in the US and Asia that China would be able to project its military around the SCS and potentially exert control over waterways that carried an estimated $3.3 trillion, or one-third of global trade, in 2016.
Despite continued international condemnation led by the US, China’s militarization of the SCS has continued unabated.
In 2017, satellite images released by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (ATMI), part of the Washington-based think tank, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), showed the extent of China’s military build up on the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands further north. According to the ATMI, China has extensive missile systems along with radar jammers on the islands.
The images clearly show completed airstrips and other infrastructure. In April 2018, China conducted its largest-ever naval exercise in the SCS. In May, the Chinese landed a warplane for the first time on an air strip on Woody Island, in the Paracels.
China’s ambition vs. international law
Although China continues to increase its capability, observers do not think that it is too late for international coalitions to maintain the integrity of international waterways passing through the SCS.
“Beijing is certainly winning more peacetime control over activity on and above the South China Sea each day, but it hasn’t completed that control yet,” Gregory Poling, the director of ATMI told DW, adding that increased engagement of the French and British navies send a strong signal to China.
“They make clear that the SCS is not a Sino-US issue,” said Poling. “It’s a matter of China vs. an overwhelming international consensus about international law and norms.”
As for the “consequences” promised by US Secretary of Defense Mattis, there are limitations to what the US military can do, outside of projecting force. Mattis is in China this week on his first visit since becoming secretary.
In May, the US rescinded China’s invitation to participate in Rimpac, an international biennial military exercise in the Pacific Ocean. On Tuesday the US aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Regan, anchored in Manila Bay to begin patrolling the South China Sea. It is the third US aircraft carrier sent this year.
“There are a lot of ‘larger consequences’ the US could consider, but most of them don’t come from the Pentagon,” said Poling, adding that while the joint training and deterrence measures were what the US Department of Defense should be doing, political pressure is what’s missing.
“Putting additional pressure on Beijing will require high-level focus and a strategy from the White House, which has been sorely lacking,” said Poling.
Putting pressure on Beijing
An important part of a political solution addressing China’s ambition in the SCS is building international coalitions. The UK and France declaring their will to cooperate on maintaining international maritime norms is a reminder to China that the SCS is still an important issue.
“The UK and France are showing that they care about the international rules that almost the entire world has signed up,” Bill Hayton a South China Sea expert at the UK-based think tank Chatham House, told DW.
“The right of all ships to sail wherever they want in the sea on the basis of innocent passage has been a fundamental international principle for decades but it looks as if China is attempting to unilaterally limit it,” said Hayton. “The recent voyages by French and British warships are a way of resisting that limitation.”
“The SCS needs to be put back at the top of the diplomatic agenda to isolate Beijing,” said Poling from CSIS.
It seems the UK and France have realized that the only way to salvage UN Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the principles on which it and the larger rules-based order are based is to join the effort to convince Beijing to clarify its claims,” he added. “The US cannot do it alone, even if it were so inclined.”
So, now, all of the sudden, there’s this international rules-based order that nations are expected to abide by to keep everybody from stepping on each other’s toes and to preserve peace and order, and prosperity, and all that sort of jazz. It doesn’t seem to mean that much to the Americans who are out slapping tariffs on the rest of the planet and dropping bombs wherever they jolly well please, and it certainly didn’t mean much to the ‘coalition’ which set out to bomb Syria just over two months ago. Where was, and is, international law relevant to these matters?
Part of what makes a law a law is that it has the respect of the community that it was promulgated to, but in the case of international law, it increasingly looks like it was and is something created by America and its allies as a club to use at their discretion to smear other nations with and to use as a pretext and/or justification for military or economic aggression. That’s why Nikki Haley considers it ‘patently ridiculous’ to apply human rights standards to America, and to measure America’s performance, as if America were actually expected to subject to those sorts of standards.
International law, based on what we see coming out of the West, then, is not so much actual internationally agreed upon standards of conduct to preserve peace and prosperity as they are a means of projecting the power of the West by means of internationally agreed upon propaganda.If and when it shows that it actually has the meanings which it says it has, in whichever body or agreement, then it should be demonstrated by realizing its application not just in non-NATO countries, but especially there, to be the examples of how nations in a civilized world ought to carry themselves.
For this reason, why should we expect China to waltz to the tune being played by the US, which is violating trade rules which it created for its own benefit with other nations, and which nations happen to be their own allies and trade partners? Is this why we’re seeing ‘freedom of navigation’ operations taking place in the South China Sea, instead of carrying out some diplomacy in the matter to help come to an understanding, because the US has no interest in diplomacy, and believes that action is required now while thinking and talking can go down later, after the US has what it wants? Then the question is, why now all of the sudden the interest from the US and its two best friends, when this issue is not a new one, what’s in it for them now that wasn’t there before? Is this part of a new pressure cooking campaign to push China in a certain direction, possibly trade related?
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.