China anger management and the UN General Assembly

is my Trade Tripper column in this recent Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

China's government, for some inexplicable reason, is again playing the bully card. Less than a month after declaring its desire of resolving the territorial disputes peacefully among the Asian countries involved, it then pulls a bizarre stunt of legislating a measure that will supposedly authorize its police officers to board and inspect vessels found within the said territories.

As the New York Times reported: “New rules announced by a Chinese province last week to allow interceptions of ships in the South China Sea are raising concerns in the region, and in Washington, that simmering disputes with Southeast Asian countries over the waters will escalate. The move by Hainan Province, which administers China’s South China Sea claims, is being seen by some outside analysts as another step in the country’s bid to solidify its claims to much of the sea, which includes crucial international shipping lanes through which more than a third of global trade is carried.”

Never mind that the rules are actually legally inutile against other countries as China’s rule-making powers are without effect outside its correct borders. However, as the New York Times correctly points out, “China, now the owner of an aircraft carrier and a growing navy, is plowing ahead with plans to enforce its claims that it has sovereign rights over much of the sea, which includes dozens of islands that other countries say are theirs. And top Chinese officials have not yet clarified their intent, leaving room for speculation. If China were to enforce these new rules fully beyond the 12-nautical-mile zones, naval experts say, at stake would be freedom of navigation, a principle that benefits not only the United States and other Western powers but also China, a big importer of Middle East oil.”

The measures come just a few weeks after China unnecessarily aggravated relations with its neighbors (particularly Vietnam and the Philippines) by including in its passports a map implicitly claiming ownership over the disputed territories.

China’s acts are so needlessly provocative even the normally placid ASEAN officials felt compelled to speak up. Reuters reported of ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan as calling the Chinese steps a “very serious turn of events” that “certainly has increased a level of concern and a level of great anxiety among all parties, particularly parties that would need the access, the passage and the freedom to go through”. Surin further was supposed to have said (“using unusually strong language”), “[that] the plan could trigger a major incident that would affect confidence in East Asia, a key engine of global economic growth.”

As I wrote previously, this is simply a country whose government cannot be trusted. Note the reportorial by the Wall Street Journal (“China’s aggressive new diplomacy,” Oct. 1, 2010): “Hillary Clinton took the side of Vietnam in mildly pushing back against China’s claims to the South China Sea, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi could barely contain his anger. Calling the Secretary of State’s remarks ‘an attack on China,’ he lectured that ‘China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.’” In human rights, China’s duplicity is well recorded (human rights activist Wei Jingsheng’s New York Times article “Don’t Believe China’s Promises,” May 4, 2012, is an example). And China has no qualms backstabbing even religious freedoms: see George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center declaring: “For some time, a modus vivendi was in place between the Vatican and Beijing on the appointment of bishops. It was never codified, but everyone knew the basic rules of the road: No bishops are to be ordained without the tacit approval of the Holy See. The regime brazenly broke that working agreement late last year, going so far as to drag one elderly Chinese bishop by his hair to an illicit episcopal ordination.”

The DFA is laudably standing firm on our claims, declaring that Chinese actions deserve “international condemnation” and are “illegal and will validate the continuous and repeated pronouncements by the Philippines that China’s claim of indisputable sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea is not only an excessive claim but a threat to all countries.”

But we should do more. China’s actions are clear threats to international peace and security. While we can’t go to the ICJ (as China is too scared to face us there) and resorting to the Security Council is useless (as China is a permanent member with double veto powers), we can certainly call attention to the situation and ask for international action through the UN General Assembly (UN Charter: Chapter IV, Articles 10, 11, and 14). At the very least, let’s demand that China explain itself to the GA as to why it is being so asinine.

We’ve always been proud of us being “good international citizens.” So it’s time we call in our chits and ask that the international community practice what they preach about international rights and peaceful processes.


For reference, here are the relevant chapter provisions of the UN Charter mentioned in the above article:


Article 9
1. The General Assembly shall consist of all the Members of the United Nations. 2. Each Member shall have not more than five representatives in the General Assembly.
Functions and Powers
Article 10
The General Assembly may discuss any questions or any matters within the scope of the present Charter or relating to the powers and functions of any organs provided for in the present Charter, and, except as provided in Article 12, may make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council or to both on any such questions or matters.
Article 11
1. The General Assembly may consider the general principles of co-operation in the maintenance of international peace and security, including the principles governing disarmament and the regulation of armaments, and may make recommendations with regard to such principles to the Members or to the Security Council or to both.
2. The General Assembly may discuss any questions relating to the maintenance of inter- national peace and security brought before it by any Member of the United Nations, or by the Security Council, or by a state which is not a Member of the United Nations in accordance with Article 35, paragraph 2, and, except as provided in Article 12, may make recommendations with regard to any such questions to the state or states concerned or to the Security Council or to both. Any such question on which action is necessary shall be referred to the Security Council by the General Assembly either before or after discussion.
3. The General Assembly may call the attention of the Security Council to situations which are likely to endanger international peace and security.
4. The powers of the General Assembly set forth in this Article shall not limit the general scope of Article 10.
Article 12
1. While the Security Council is exercising in respect of any dispute or situation the functions assigned to it in the present Charter, the General Assembly shall not make any recommendation with regard to that dispute or situation unless the Security Council so requests.
2. The Secretary-General, with the consent of the Security Council, shall notify the General Assembly at each session of any matters relative to the maintenance of international peace and security which are being dealt with by the Security Council and similarly notify the General Assembly, or the Members of the United Nations if the General Assembly is not in session, immediately the Security Council ceases to deal with such matters.
Article 13
1. The General Assembly shall initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of:
a. promoting international co-operation in the political field and encouraging the progressive development of international law and its codification;
b. promoting international co-operation in the economic, social, cultural, educational, and health fields, an assisting in the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
2. The further responsibilities, functions and powers of the General with respect to matters mentioned in paragraph ) above are set forth in Chapters IX and X.
Article 14
Subject to the provisions of Article 12, the General Assembly may recommend measures for the peaceful adjustment of any situation, regardless of origin, which it deems likely to impair the general welfare or friendly relations among nations, including situations resulting from a violation of the provisions of the present Charter setting forth the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.
Article 15
1. The General Assembly shall receive and consider annual and special reports from the Security Council; these reports shall include an account of the measures that the Security Council has decided upon or taken to main- tain international peace and security.
2. The General Assembly shall receive and consider reports from the other organs of the United Nations.
Article 16
The General Assembly shall perform such functions with respect to the international trusteeship system as are assigned to it under Chapters XII and XIII, including the approval of the trusteeship agreements for areas not designated as strategic.
Article 17
1. The Genera Assembly shall consider and approve the budget of the Organization.
2. The expenses of the Organization shall be borne by the Members as apportioned by the General Assembly.
3. The Assembly shall consider and approve any financial and budgetary arrangements with specialize agencies referred to in Article 57 and shall examine the administrative budgets of such specialized agencies with a view to making recommendations to the agencies concerned.
Article 18
1. Each member of the General Assembly shall have one vote.
2. Decisions of the General Assembly on important questions shall be made by a two- thirds majority of the members present and voting. These questions shall include: recommendations with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security, the election of the non-permanent members of the Security Council, the election of the members of the Economic and Social Council, the election of members of the Trusteeship Council in accordance with paragraph 1 of Article 86, the admission of new Members to the United Nations, the suspension of the rights and privileges of membership, the expulsion of Members, questions relating to the operation of the trusteeship system, and budgetary questions.
3. Decisions on other questions, including the determination of additional categories of questions to be decided by a two-thirds majority, shall be made by a majority of the members present and voting.
Article 19
A Member of the United Nations which is in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the Organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years. The General Assembly may, nevertheless, permit such a Member to vote if it is satisfied that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond the of the Member.
Article 20
The General Assembly shall meet in regular annual sessions and in such special sessions as occasion may require. Special sessions shall be convoked by the Secretary-General at the request of the Security Council or of a majority of the Members of the United Nations.
Article 21
The General Assembly shall adopt its own rules of procedure. It shall elect its President for each session.
Article 22
The General Assembly may establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its functions.