China’s Crimea

The recent ruling by the international tribunal in the Hague on the deliberations between the Philippines and China over territory in the South China Sea has created a more precarious region. Chinese officials swiftly rebuked the binding decision that found its artificial island construction, behavior, as well as the supposed nine-dash claim baseless. China was not expecting a full out favorable ruling but surprised by the level of condemnation it received.

The ruling has definitely put a major impediment to the Chinese actions in the region as well as it’s tactical practice of incrementally seizing land over time in the hopes of not drawing too much attention. All this is now changing due to the fact that the international community has become cognizant of China’s approach. As China looks to the different claims it holds in the strategic sea, there is a real possibility China might maneuver like Putin and seize certain territorial assets it deems as critical to its strategic imperative. The world should be prepared to potentially see more Crimea-like seizures throughout the South China Sea by China.

Despite the setback by the Hague, Chinese officials have ensured their fiery reaction and rebuke towards the ruling demonstrates the importance of territorial integrity to the government. China has managed to take the Hague’s decision and spin it into the continual victim status of the Chinese homeland and people. Even though the complaint was lodged by the Philippines, American lawyers aided in the case, which all took place in a European court. For Chinese officials, it is able to demonstrate to its people that the Century of Humiliation lives on. However, unlike past Chinese governments, China’s Communist government will not bend to the whim of those bent on tearing China up as they did in the past. Such rhetoric only further enables and empowers the Chinese government to take riskier decisions in the region with a mandate from its people.

After Putin seized Crimea, his popularity did not rise only in Russia but across China. His ability to withstand international criticism for the sake of his country’s territorial unity, as portrayed by Chinese officials, made him a man of high praise. Seeing that a diplomatic approach has not fulfilled China’s strategic ambitions for the region, she will now look to a seize and control approach similar to Crimea. Even though such a maneuver would be easier with the atolls and small island littered throughout the region, such tactics will not be employed against Taiwan. Going forward, China will bide its time and wait for the right moment before it begins pouncing on maritime features throughout the sea. While such moves in the interim will raise tensions and be provocative, it will not pose any real danger to the nations around. Yet in the grand scheme, China is laying the foundation for regional hegemony through such Crimean-style seizures. This grand ambition is what the US and regional nations should fear.

Luis Durani
Luis Durani
Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani