What is the Ostrich Protocol?
How the EU member states play ostrich when it comes to human rights violations inside EU?
The Treaty on the European Union, in its current format also known as the Lisbon Treaty, as well as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights claim to establish an area of freedom, security and justice, founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and the respect for human rights. That sounds perfect. After centuries of inhuman treatment of people very often by their own governments, culminating in the tyrannies of communism and Nazism in the 20th century, EU citizens should be able to feel safe from brutal attacks and illegal operations of a violent state, if not ….If they are not refugees from another EU member state and they do not try to look for protection because they were subject in their own state to political persecution, inhuman treatment or even torture.
The Geneva Convention about status of and asylum for refugees, persons subject to political persecution, is one of the great international achievements in the field of human rights. The European Union as a successful project of peace, freedom and justice promises in Art.18 of its Charter that “the right to asylum shall be guaranteed with due respect for the rules of the Geneva Convention..” But why is this guarantee denied when the asylum seeker comes from an EU country?
The EU Treaty consists not only of the main articles, but also of some so-called “protocols” which are “annexed” to the Treaty by the “high contracting parties”, i.e. the Member States. One of these Protocols is PROTOCOL (No 24) ON ASYLUM FOR NATIONALS OF MEMBER STATES OF THE EUROPEAN UNION which reads as follows:
“The high contracting parties,
WHEREAS, in accordance with Article 6(1) of the Treaty on European Union, the Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights,
WHEREAS pursuant to Article 6(3) of the Treaty on European Union, fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, constitute part of the Union’s law as general principles,
WHEREAS the Court of Justice of the European Union has jurisdiction to ensure that in the interpretation and application of Article 6, paragraphs (1) and (3) of the Treaty on European Union the law is observed by the European Union,
WHEREAS pursuant to Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union any European State, when applying to become a Member of the Union, must respect the values set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union,
BEARING IN MIND that Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union establishes a mechanism for the suspension of certain rights in the event of a serious and persistent breach by a Member State of those values,
RECALLING that each national of a Member State, as a citizen of the Union, enjoys a special status and protection which shall be guaranteed by the Member States in accordance with the provisions of Part Two of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,
BEARING IN MIND that the Treaties establish an area without internal frontiers and grant every citizen of the Union the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States,
WISHING to prevent the institution of asylum being resorted to for purposes alien to those for which it is intended,
WHEREAS this Protocol respects the finality and the objectives of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 relating to the status of refugees,
HAVE AGREED UPON the following provisions, which shall be annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:
Given the level of protection of fundamental rights and freedoms by the Member States of the European Union, Member States shall be regarded as constituting safe countries of origin in respect of each other for all legal and practical purposes in relation to asylum matters. Accordingly, any application for asylum made by a national of a Member State may be taken into consideration or declared admissible for processing by another Member State only in the following cases:
(a) if the Member State of which the applicant is a national proceeds after the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam, availing itself of the provisions of Article 15 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, to take measures derogating in its territory from its obligations under that Convention;
(b) if the procedure referred to Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union has been initiated and until the Council, or, where appropriate, the European Council, takes a decision in respect thereof with regard to the Member State of which the applicant is a national;
(c) if the Council has adopted a decision in accordance with Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union in respect of the Member State of which the applicant is a national or if the European Council has adopted a decision in accordance with Article 7(2) of that Treaty in respect of the Member State of which the applicant is a national;
(d) if a Member State should so decide unilaterally in respect of the application of a national of another Member State; in that case the Council shall be immediately informed; the application shall be dealt with on the basis of the presumption that it is manifestly unfounded without affecting in any way, whatever the cases may be, the decision-making power of the Member State.”
After very nice introducing words about “fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms constitute part of the Union’s law as general principles … and any European State, when applying to become a Member of the Union, must respect the values set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union,” the disgraceful truth comes at the end: whatever happened or could happen with the applicant in his country, “the application shall be dealt with on the basis of the presumption that it is manifestly unfounded”!
This Protocol (no 24) stands not only in contradiction to itself and the idea of the European Union and its fundamental documents, Treaty and Charter on Fundamental Rights, but is also a severe violation of international law. The Geneva Refugee Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights have to be respected by the European Union which should not be “a superstate where international laws which have protected individuals for decades are discarded.” It is the disgraceful “ostrich protocol no.24” which should be discarded immediately by the European Council.
We certainly don’t live in a perfect world. Despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, the European Convention on Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Conventions against torture and inhuman treatment and other International binding covenants human rights violations, torture, illegal detentions, extrajudicial executions etc. are still part of the daily life of too many people. Millions of people are leaving their home country to escape from political persecution, police and military brutality and other unbelievable atrocities. To protect such people the international community set up already in 1951 the Geneva Refugee Convention, the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states, in particular to grant “asylum” to refugees. All member countries of the European Union are party to the Geneva Convention. In addition the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights states in its Art.18 that “the right to asylum shall be guaranteed with due respect for the rules of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 and the Protocol of 31 January 1967 relating to the status of refugees and in accordance with the Treaty establishing the European Community”. That looks like the Union is endorsing international obligations of its member states under the Geneva Convention.
Therefore anybody subject to political persecution, police brutality, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, illegal detention, unfair trial etc. should at least get asylum in an EU member country. Fortunately the description of the sad situation of millions of people does not apply to the European Union and its member states. And certainly everybody should desire that this situation does not even apply to a single individual within the European Union. But, is there a guarantee? Or is it just wishful thinking that there will be this guarantee? Could it be that “the high contracting parties” and there representatives, i.e. the heads of state and government of the EU member states base their decisions on wishful thinking? Most likely not, therefore we have to ask what else could be the reason for them to “play ostrich” and put, metaphorically speaking, their heads into the sand for not seeing the human rights violation by a partner state in the Union? Among people who know the background of the evolving of Protocol no.24 it is also called the “Aznar Protocol”. As clearly stated by an expert of UNHCR, Karen Landgren, protocol no. 24 (and its assumption that “Member States shall be regarded as constituting safe countries of origin in respect of each other for all legal and practical purposes in relation to asylum matters”) “is the product of a political deal, supported by Spain as the initiator and all those countries who needed the support of Spain in other EU matters”.
That Protocol (no 24) had a purely political purpose is also demonstrated by the fact that it refers to nationals of a member state as citizens of the EU. That means that the protocol and therefore the automatic rejection of an asylum request does not apply to non-nationals of an EU member state who seek asylum because of persecution in a member state, for example stateless persons with residence in the EU. What is the reason for discrimination of EU citizens by the European Union? As described by Karen Landgren, Protocol (no24) is not based on legal ground but on pure political decision.
If one believes that political persecution, police brutality, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, illegal detention, unfair trial could not happen on EU territory one should look to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and to the reports of Council of Europe’s Commission for the Prevention of Torture. The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a report of MP Marieluise Beck, member of the German delegation to the Assembly, on “Threats to the Rule of Law in Council of Europe Member States” including also members of the European Union. The report, based on facts, realizes politically-motivated prosecutions of political opponents, journalists and civil society activists as well as cover-ups of crimes committed or instigated and organized by politicians! “Serious problems related to the rule of law exist in several member states”. Politically motivated prosecution happens according to the Beck-report and is certainly one of the main reasons to seek asylum. And those who uncover crimes committed or instigated and organized by politicians are obviously under danger in the country where this happens. As one cannot exclude that the same politicians who committed, instigated or organized the uncovered crimes have the power to issue an European warrant, the whistleblowers can be prosecuted on the basis of wrong or fabricated accusations throughout Europe easily and the European partner states are obliged to help, to help the perpetrators. But this is exactly what asylum if well founded should avoid. But currently asylum for an EU citizen is excluded by the Ostrich Protocol. Of course, there were legal remedies, such as appeal to the European Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights. But everybody knows very well that these remedies take time, long time. In the meantime the asylum applicant may be extradited to the country of his persecution with unknown consequences.
Among 28 EU member states it was only Belgium who rejected such a deal at the cost of politically persecuted citizens and declared that it will fulfill its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 New York Protocol and will carry out an individual examination of any asylum request of a citizen of another EU member state! With this official declaration (no.56) Belgium indirectly confirmed that protocol no.24 is a violation of International law!
As a consequence the Council of the EU should discard Protocol (no 24) immediately. The European Commission, the European Ombudsman and the European Parliament are called upon to support this request. Of course, an application for asylum of an EU citizen will (hopefully) always be an extraordinary, special case. Therefore it may need a special procedure and also special consequences. Instead of forcing member states to ignore their international obligations asylum applications of EU citizens (and permanent residents) should be dealt with at EU level, e.g. by the Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs or even better by an independent body or committee and when they are well founded asylum should be granted for the whole EU territory. But in such cases the Commission should automatically open an investigation of the situation in the country the applicant is coming from in order to avoid similar cases for the future. Such a procedure would be appropriate for the “area of freedom, security and justice, founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and the respect for human rights”.
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf
William Shawcross, member of the board of the International Crisis Group, Shawcross, A Disgraceful EU Asylum Proposal, the New York Times, 14.06.1997, http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/14/opinion/14iht-edshaw.t.html ,
The then Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar wanted to hinder with all means that supporters of the terrorist group ETA could be granted asylum in another EU country. But the application of Protocol no.24 is in no way limited to suspects of terrorism!
Landgren, Deflecting international protection by treaty: bilateral and multilateral accords on extradition, readmission and the inadmissibility of asylum requests, UNHCR Working Paper Nr. 10, 1999, S. 12)
National Interest surpassing human rights: Case study of Kashmir
Authors: Rizwan Malik and Areeja Syed
The Indian government revoked the exceptional status accorded to Indian-occupied Kashmir in Indian constitution. This sudden development is the most sweeping political move on the disputed region in seventy years. A presidential pronouncement issued on August 5 revoked Article 370 of Indian constitution that ascertained the special rights to the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir, including the rights to have her own constitution and autonomy to make laws on all affairs apart from communication, defence, and foreign policies. This shocking move literally shook Kashmir and Pakistan at their cores. Now It has been more than one month now since Indian forces started a lock down in Indian administered Kashmir. Due to continuous threat of mass protests against this illegal action, additional troops were deployed in already heavy militarized valley. Crippling curfew was imposed and Internet services were suspended. Indian security forces have also arrested all the political leadership of the valley. Different International media outlets have published news regarding the brutal suppression of local Kashmiri people by Indian forces.
With the evolution of United Nation and other international institutions, rights violation and other disputed issue that could undermine peace and stability are paid umpteen attentions by the international community. Time to time we have witnessed intervention on humanitarian bases by International Community .Even force was used in many states to stop oppressive regimes from committing atrocities.
India claims herself to be the largest democracy in the world and champion of human rights protection. But this is absolutely contrary and devious to the ground realities. Especially since BJP came into power in 2014 with an expansionist agenda, it is actively involved in different crimes and often violated the sovereignty of many states. BJP government has conducted military operation in Myanmar in 2015 without taking into confidence the local government. Later, Pakistan was targeted in February 2019 though it resulted in shooting down of one of Indian fighter jets. This shift has deteriorated the already-heightened tensions with neighboring Pakistan, which relegated its diplomatic relations with India.
Kashmir has been a bone of contention and a disputed region between Indian and Pakistan since 1947. Pakistan and India claim Kashmir in full but rule it partially. The nuclear-armed neighbors remain at daggers drawn over this issue and have fought three wars over this territory but Kashmir issue is still unresolved. A rebellion in Indian-administered Kashmir has been continuing for past 30 years. United Nations General Assembly passed resolutions on Kashmir and has given Kashmir citizens the right of self-determination .UN instructed both India and Pakistan to withdraw their troops from disputed region and to organize plebiscite there. Though India did not agree to these demands and never held a plebiscite but a special status was granted to Indian occupied Kashmir which made it a semi-autonomous region. Different round of talks were arranged between India and Pakistan to solve this dispute which means that India recognized Kashmir as international dispute.
But on August 05, 2015 BJPs government removed this special status of Kashmir and directly imposed the rule of central India.BJP has established a stance that Kashmir is integral part of India and vowed to attack even Pakistani administered Kashmir.
This illegal move of Indian authorities is accompanied by the brutal use of force in the valley. International community which asserts it as the protector of International law and human rights round the globe has basically done nothing against this inhuman/illegal occupation of Kashmir. Reason is that international community is following real politik .According to realist school of thought , International relations states only protect their own national interests. They do not have much appetite for human rights and International Law. This is best depicted in response of international community on Indian moves in Kashmir. If we analyze the international reactions to this recent development one by one we can see that these great powers have their own vested interest in India that is why they are not willing to take any concrete step. For example due to changing geopolitical situation in Asia-Pacific region United States considers India as its strategic ally against the regional power of China. According to US, Indian will contain expanding Chinese influence in south Asia and will act as balancing forces. Moreover Indian with its huge population and large economy is very good trading partner of United States .That is why US will not take any concrete steps against Indian aggression. Countries like France and Russia are huge arms exporters to India so they will not try to lose a client by taking any concrete steps against India. States like Saudi Arabia and UAE which have influence on India because to their oil exports and other trade relation will not take any action .Reason they have very strong trade ties which they do not want to threaten .Secondly they themselves are oppressing regimes so promoting human right in any other region will jeopardize their own position as international actor.
With this realpolitik prevailing at international politics Pakistan is left with pauce options. Pakistan has very strong religious and cultural bonding with Kashmir people and she considers it her legal and moral responsibility to help Kashmir people who are facing wrath of Indian forces. it is the responsibility of the International community to speak for the human rights violations in Kashmir instead on just focusing on their own vast national interests.
A bird’s eye view of Asia: A continental landscape of minorities in peril
Many in Asia look at the Middle East with a mixture of expectation of stable energy supplies, hope for economic opportunity and concern about a potential fallout of the region’s multiple violent conflicts that are often cloaked in ethnic, religious and sectarian terms.
Yet, a host of Asian nations led by men and women, who redefine identity as concepts of exclusionary civilization, ethnicity, and religious primacy rather than inclusive pluralism and multiculturalism, risk sowing the seeds of radicalization rooted in the despair of population groups that are increasingly persecuted, disenfranchised and marginalized.
Leaders like China’s Xi Jingping, India’s Narendra Modi, and Myanmar’s Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi, alongside nationalist and supremacist religious figures ignore the fact that crisis in the Middle East is rooted in autocratic and authoritarian survival strategies that rely on debilitating manipulation of national identity on the basis of sectarianism, ethnicity and faith-based nationalism.
A bird’s eye view of Asia produces a picture of a continental landscape strewn with minorities on the defensive whose positioning as full-fledged members of society with equal rights and opportunities is either being eroded or severely curtailed.
It also highlights a pattern of responses by governments and regional associations that opt for a focus on pre-emptive security, kicking the can down the road and/or silent acquiescence rather than addressing a wound head-on that can only fester, making cures ever more difficult.
To be sure, multiple Asian states, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have at various times opened their doors to refugees.
Similarly, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) disaster management unit has focused on facilitating and streamlining repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
But a leaked report by the unit, AHA Centre, in advance of last June’s ASEAN summit was criticized for evading a discussion on creating an environment in which Rohingya would be willing to return.
The criticism went to the core of the problem: Civilizationalist policies, including cultural genocide, isolating communities from the outside world, and discrimination will at best produce simmering anger, frustration and despair and at worst mass migration, militancy and/or political violence.
A Uyghur member of the Communist Party for 30 years who did not practice his religion, Ainiwa Niyazi, would seem to be the picture-perfect model of a Chinese citizen hailing from the north-western province of Xinjiang.
Yet, Mr Niyazi was targeted in April of last year for re-education, one of at least a million Turkic Muslims interned in detention facilities where they are forced to internalize Xi Jinping thought and repudiate religious norms and practices in what constitutes the most frontal assault on a faith in recent history.
If past efforts, including an attempt to turn Kurds into Turks by banning use of Kurdish as a language that sparked a still ongoing low level insurgency, is anything to go by, China’s ability to achieve a similar goal with greater brutality is questionable.
“Most Uyghur young men my age are psychologically damaged. When I was in elementary school surrounded by other Uyghurs, I was very outgoing and active. Now I feel like I have been broken… Quality of life is now about feeling safe,” said Alim, a young Uyghur, describing to Adam Hunerven, a writer who focuses on the Uyghurs, arrests of his friends and people trekking south to evade the repression in Xinjiang cities.
Travelling in the region in 2014, an era in which China was cracking down on Uyghurs but that predated the institutionalization of the re-education camps, Mr. Hunerven saw that “the trauma people experienced in the rural Uyghur homeland was acute. It followed them into the city, hung over their heads and affected the comportment of their bodies. It made people tentative, looking over their shoulders, keeping their heads down. It made them tremble and cry.”
There is little reason to assume that anything has since changed for the better. On the contrary, not only has the crackdown intensified, fear and uncertainty has spread to those lucky enough to live beyond the borders of China. Increasingly, they risk being targeted by the long arm of the Chinese state that has pressured their host countries to repatriate them.
Born and raised in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, Rahima Akter, one of the few women to get an education among the hundreds of thousands who fled what the United Nations described as ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, saw her dreams and potential as a role model smashed when she was this month expelled from university after recounting her story publicly.
Ms. Akter gained admission to Cox’s Bazar International University (CBIU) on the strength of graduating from a Bangladeshi high school, a feat she could only achieve by sneaking past the camp’s checkpoints, hiding her Rohingya identity, speaking only Bengali, dressing like a Bangladeshi, and bribing Bangladeshi public school officials for a placement.
Ms Akter was determined to escape the dire warnings of UNICEF, the United Nations’ children agency, that Rohingya refugee children risked becoming “a lost generation.”
Ms. Akter’s case is not an isolated incident but part of a refugee policy in an environment of mounting anti-refugee sentiment that threatens to deprive Rohingya refugees who refuse to return to Myanmar unless they are guaranteed full citizenship of any prospects.
In a move that is likely to deepen a widespread sense of abandonment and despair, Bangladeshi authorities, citing security reasons, this month ordered the shutting down of mobile services and a halt to the sale of SIM cards in Rohingya refugee camps and restricted Internet access. The measures significantly add to the isolation of a population that is barred from travelling outside the camps.
Not without reason, Bangladeshi foreign minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen, has blamed the international community for not putting enough pressure on Myanmar to take the Rohingyas back.
The UN “should go to Myanmar, especially to Rakhine state, to create conditions that could help these refugees to go back to their country. The UN is not doing the job that we expect them to do,” Mr. Abdul Momen said.
The harsh measures are unlikely to quell increased violence in the camps and continuous attempts by refugees to flee in search of better pastures.
Suspected Rohingya gunmen last month killed a youth wing official of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party. Two refugees were killed in a subsequent shootout with police.
The plight of the Uyghurs and the Rohingya repeats itself in countries like India with its stepped up number of mob killings that particularly target Muslims, threatened stripping of citizenship of close to two million people in the state of Assam, and unilateral cancellation of self-rule in Kashmir.
The Islamic Religious Department in Selangor, Malaysia’s richest state, this week issued a sermon that amounts to a mandatory guideline for sermons in mosques warning against “the spread of Shia deviant teachings in this nation… The Muslim ummah (community of the faithful) must become the eyes and the ears for the religious authorities when stumbling upon activities that are suspicious, disguising under the pretext of Islam,” the sermon said.
Malaysia, one state where discriminatory policies are unlikely to spark turmoil and political violence, may be the exception that confirms the rule.
Ethnic and religious supremacism in major Asian states threatens to create breeding grounds for violence and extremism. The absence of effective attempts to lessen victims’ suffering by ensuring that they can rebuild their lives and safeguard their identities in a safe and secure environment, allows wounds to fester.
Permitting Ms. Akter, the Rohingya university student, to pursue her dream, would have been a low-cost, low risk way of offering Rohingya youth an alternative prospect and at the very least a reason to look for constructive ways of reversing what is a future with little hope.
Bangladeshi efforts to cut off opportunities in the hope that Rohingya will opt for repatriation have so far backfired. And repatriation under circumstances that do not safeguard their rights is little else than kicking the can down the road.
Said human rights advocate Ewelina U. Ochab: “It is easy to turn a blind eye when the atrocities do not happen under our nose. However, we cannot forget that religious persecution anywhere in the world is a security threat to everyone, everywhere.”
Chinese ‘Darning’ in South China Sea and International Apathy
India has asked for the renewal of the contract with regard to exploration rights in Block 128 which is located in Vietnamese Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ). The contract for exploration had expiredin June 2019. This effort to renew the contract is meant to give a signal to China that India would not succumb to Chinese bullying tactics and is a legitimate stakeholder in South China Sea/East Sea. China has threatened the joint exploration initiatives of Russia, India and Vietnam near Vanguard Bank. Chinese undertook assertive posture by deploying its advanced coastguard ships and even latest bombers. Chinese strategy in the months of July and August was to bring about a media fatigue in reporting so that major tensions or even ships cruising close to each other can be passed off as routine affair.
Many strategic commentators have stated that Chinese have been using the ‘salami slicing’ tactics in South China Sea/ East Sea but it is more of a darning in which the Chinese have been pinching the corners of South China Sea/ East Sea to create a Chinese strategic space through a critical grid. The expansion of Chinese activities in those areas which are not contested is meant to first get the resource profile of the region under the garb of research activity and also thwart any economic activity in adjoining areas of the contested waters. The biggest challenge is that the geographic coordinates of the nine-dash line is not clear, and the international response has only been a strong rhetorical statements. It is only when India has been intimidated and the US has started freedom of navigation sail that some responses are seen from the two countries. It needs to be noted that when a UN Security Council member(China) tries to undermine international regulations, and respect for international peace and stability in those contested waters then it is appropriate to raise the voice at the P-5 high table.
Among the international responses on the tensions near the Vanguard Bank,International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) which supports international law under the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) criticized Chinese assertive aggression.Criticizing Chinese ships bullying in waters ofThi Tu island and Luconia Shoals, it released a statement stating that Chinese survey activities undertaken by Haiyang Dizhi 8 in continental shelf of Vietnam was complete disregard for Vietnamese sovereignty of the waters under UNCLOS 1982. IADL further urged the claimant states to sign and ratify the Code of Conduct (COC) and bring a compliance mechanism. European nations- UK, Germany and France also took strong position on the subject and deplored Chinese activities near Vanguard Bank and highlighted that tensions in the South China Sea “could lead to insecurity and instability in the region”. The latent tensions between US and China overflowed during the Indian Ocean Conference 2019 recently held (September 3-4) in Maldives where Harry Harris,US Ambassador to South Korea remarked, “China’s diplomacy seeks to force ASEAN members to define codes of conduct in the region dictated by Beijing and conforming to Chinese standards. You can see intimidation in China’s militarization and defiance of international law”. He added while responding to questions, “That the military bases that China has created…(with) literally a great wall of sand in the middle of the South China Sea are all illegal”.China’s Ambassador of Ocean Affairs Wei Hongtian attending the conference rebutted and said, “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) in the South China Sea and adjacent waters…,” clearly justifying the bullying tactics adopted by his country.
Looking into international response on the subject is more of a routine affair with India oft repeated stance that it supports freedom of navigation and freedom to explore and undertake commercial activities within EEZ of nations. If one analyses the Chinese annoying tactics then one can observe that it has intimidated countries across region starting with Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam (the three claimants to South China Sea) and Japan (East China Sea) clearly defining the perimeter of the nine dash line. As China has built structures and even placed anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, and few fighter aircrafts, it wants to keep them in active mode through sorties and regular patrols outside the claimed zone. One can use the metaphor the ‘cow tongue is now salivating’. China has been trying hard to somewhat subjugate Vietnamese claims and this can be seen in the context of land borders also. In the India-China border there are non-demarcated pockets, Chinese soldiers regularly visit the contentious territories and express their claim through leaving certain signs. In the maritime domains, the same strategy is being adopted where recurrent visits and patrols would help them define new areas of control. The fishermen militia has been doing their task of forewarning and also collecting data with regard to passing ships and patrols. The fishermen militia of China is equipped with cameras and other equipment to collect as much information possible and report back to the party headquarters. More recently,there have been reports that China has deployed its highly sophisticated surveillance ships in Andaman waters, clearly marking its intent in checking India’s naval preparedness and the utility of the tri services command in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The international response to deteriorating situation in South China Sea has been discussed when Indian defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited Japan and also Indian Ambassador to Vietnam had a detailed discussion with the Vietnamese communist party leadership. The recent provocations in the oil block explored by ONGC, India might force India to deploy itscoast guard ships and also station one of the advanced corvettescloser to the Vietnamese EEZ. As alreadywith the situation getting out of hand, India would like to deploy its P-8I PoseidonMaritimeSurveillanceaircraft to protect its assets. Countries such asUK, Germany, France and Japan have alsoraisedconcernsrelated to the Chineseaggressive moves in the region and the recently conducted US –ASEAN exercisesbetween Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea would reinforce US presence in these waters. The problem with Chineseapproach it that it is extending itself far too wide without thinking about a serious backlash. In a hypotheticalsituation in case Vietnam allows stationing of the US ships around Vietnameseislands then Chinese hegemony would be seriously jeopardized. Also,Vietnam have kept the window open for negotiations and also bringing about peace in the waters as recurrent tensions and dangerousmaneuvers would be detrimental to the long term interest of all fishing communities. Chinahas also made it clearduring the recent visit of PhilippinesPresidentDuterte that the July 11,2016 ruling does not hold any meaning to the communist country. The option of joint exploration proposed by China is only meant to buy time and space so that the increasing rig deployment and operating costs would make smaller nations to wrench out making way for complete control of China even in those areas which are non-disputed and lie in EEZ of other countries.
The challenge is to makeChina accountable for itsactions and make it understand that the prickly attitude would mean that it would be antagonizing too many neighbours at the same time. India hasalready been annoyed because of China’s stance on abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in Kashmir and division of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh as two Union territories, leading the informal discussion in the UN Security Council. PM Modi has been hesitant to start the informal dialogue with President Xi given the recent stance adopted by China on Kashmir issue. The complex equation which is emerging in South China Sea along with recurrent tensions would mean that China would emerge as the trouble maker with no respect for international law and maritime sovereign boundaries. The bullying by China will have identical effect across the region. The problem is what are the options for the international community when major oil companies have been asked not to venture in South China Sea and China is defining its new strategic courtyard. The exercises with US and group sail might become a recurrent feature and also tensions are going to rise. The challenge would be to reduce militarization of the contested waters given the fact that China is known for not respecting agreements and international laws.
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