I have an interest in the Far East - particularly as I watch the expansion of China on all fronts. China is now demanding that almost all the South China Sea belongs to itself. That is certainly wrong and must be resisted,However the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has recently handed down a landmark 497-page ruling today in the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration on the Philippine maritime case against China.Despite its refusal to participate in the case, its challenge over the court’s jurisdiction, its questioning of the impartiality of the judges, and its refusal to be bound by the ruling, China has come off much the worse for it, with Philippines playing the plucky David against Beijing’s Goliath.The case is clouded by a number of geopolitical elements, such as the US-China rivalry behind the case and ASEAN’s attempt to hold a united position in defence of its members. Despite this – or perhaps because of it – the ITLOS ruling brings badly-needed clarity on the rights and responsibilities of maritime states.Under scrutiny were China’s legally ambiguous claims; particularly its “nine-dashed line” and the unclear historic basis of the claim. The line covers much of the South China Sea, overlapping many other states boundaries, extending far south to Indonesian waters.
It also encompasses one of the world’s largest trading routes, with 60,000 vessels transiting its waters each year worth £3.8 trillion.
According to the Court, there is little historic evidence for the claim, only appearing on official Chinese maps in 1948. Although Chinese government statements claim a long history of indisputable sovereignty over the territory, and the adjacent waters, in similarly-worded phrases, Beijing has not provided convincing evidence.In fact, as the Philippines argued, China’s 12th and 13th Century maps show its territory extending no further than Hainan Island. Furthermore, from the 14th century to the 16th century, the Imperial Chinese government prohibited maritime trade by Chinese subjects and outlawed all seafaring activities, on pain of death. Nor does the line conform to recognised international legal norms or principles.While the Tribunal’s ruling on the nine-dashed line was not the only element of the ruling, it was the most significant, because of its geopolitical and great power repercussions. Behind all the legal fuss, the maritime claims, and counter-claims, this story has been about China and what type of power it wants to be in the region.
In the 1990s, China spent much effort on developing its soft power through the region, with a particular focus on ASEAN member states. In turn, it was warmly welcomed into the highest councils of the region, and became an influential instigator of regional integration and institutions.Beijing’s behavior after the Asian Financial Crisis cemented this growing influence and its model for Asian community-building, the ASEAN Plus 3 model, (South Korea, Japan, and China) won over Tokyo’s preferred model, which would have included fellow democracies Australia, India, and New Zealand.Since then, stock in Chinese soft power has plummeted. This took place as China began sending out fleets of fishing boats to harass those of neighboring states. Linked by radio, GPS, the fleets acted as a sort of militia, and were often backed by Chinese Coast Guard vessels. The sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat in 2014 heralded the new bullish approach, with another sinking taking place last week.China’s reaction has been to apportion blame on regional states, beginning first with the Philippines and Vietnam, those states who have the most territory to lose. Behind them, Beijing believes, lies the United States, instigating trouble and working on a containing it as a rising power.Sadly, this perspective has allowed Chinese policymakers to continue pushing the region toward instability. Its military displays and exercises in the run-up to the PCA’s ruling reveal the mindset in Beijing.What does all this bode for the region and for global politics? China remains an important trade partner to ASEAN member states, to the United States, its allies, and to European states. Clearly, there is no appetite for conflict, and despite bullish newspapers in China – like the Global Times – calling for war over the seas, Washington is unlikely to be drawn into another war.
In many ways, the situation is a conundrum for states that benefit from the current rules-based system: how do they avoid conflict with China over its expansionist claims, while at the same time, shaping Chinese behaviour and preferences?Up until now, regional states sought to offer deals to jointly develop their resources; however, now it has unilaterally claimed those resources. In the wake of the Court’s ruling, however, there are signs that Beijing may reach out to President Duterte and make a deal.Certainly, no matter what it decides, Manila firmly holds the moral high ground. One hopes that any deal offers a template to a weary and anxious region. If Beijing shelves the nine-dashed line and offers joint development of resources, other claimants – like Vietnam and Malaysia – would likely seek similar deals.Should Chinese domestic politics push Beijing to stand its ground, then it is likely that more regional states will initiate cases against China with the Permanent Court, and it will find its regional and global soft power rapidly dwindling.

Defence Committee Visits Frontline NATO States in the Baltic

From 9th - 11th June 2014 Bob visited first Latvia and then Estonia with the House of Commons Defence Committee.  The purpose of the visit was for MPs to assess just how great was the threat from Russia; bearing in mind that both countries are on Russia's borders and the United Kingdom is expected to defend them under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Obviously recent events in Ukraine worry the Baltic States greatly.  Bob is pictured outside NATO's recently established Cyber Warfare Centre in Talinn, Estonia.  

Remembering the Hyde Park Bombing of 1982

On Thursday 27th March Bob contributed to a debate in the House of Commons which lamented that John Downey, a suspect in the Hyde Park Bombings which took place on 20th July 1982, had been allowed to walk free because of a mistake made by politicians and the police in Northern Ireland.  His speech is detailed below.Today, we are talking about events in London on Tuesday 20 July 1982. In particular, we are debating the consequences of an explosion—about 20 to 25 lbs of high explosive was packed with nails to cause maximum casualties, and hidden inside a Morris Marina car—in South Carriage drive near Hyde Park. It was placed there by the so-called “England Department” of the Irish Republican Army, and the bomb killed four members of the Blues and Royals as they rode to change the guard on Horse Guards.Apparently, John Downey, who was arrested at Gatwick in May last year, was a leading operative of the so-called “England Department” of the IRA. Yet he felt he was immune from prosecution, because he had in his possession a letter saying that he was not wanted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which appears to have been issued as part of the bargaining between the authorities and terrorists during the Northern Ireland peace process. When the letter was issued to Downey, the authorities either missed the fact that Downey was wanted on a 20-year arrest warrant for his alleged part in the July 1982 Hyde Park bomb, or they decided to ignore the fact.I totally understand why so many people are utterly dismayed by the fact that a suspect for the murders of four soldiers by IRA terrorists has apparently been granted immunity from prosecution. To my mind, it was an extraordinary mistake by both politicians and police in Northern Ireland. All of us here today in Parliament should send a clear signal that murder is murder and those responsible for it should face the full rigour of the law.I remember 20 July 1982 extremely well. At the time, I was a company commander serving in Northern Ireland; unknowingly, I was also only six months away from being directly involved in a similar atrocity at Ballykelly, where I personally lost six soldiers killed by terrorists on 6 December 1982. It has had a tremendous impact on me.In the Hyde Park bombing, there were not just four deaths, but 31 other people were wounded. Seven horses were killed and several others hurt. Some older Members may remember the heroic Blues and Royals horse called Sefton, who became something of a national hero for making such a great recovery after the incident.To their immortal memory, like my friend the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), I remind the House of the names of our men who were killed in this atrocious barbarism.Lieutenant Anthony Daly was aged 23 and had been married only 27 days before he was murdered. I gather his mother was waiting at Horse Guards to proudly watch her son carry out his duty as escort commander. Corporal Roy Bright, aged 36, was carrying the standard. A senior soldier, Roy did not die at the scene but in hospital three days later. Trooper Simon Tipper, aged 19, died on the street. He had been married less than a month and must have been looking forward to a great life with his new bride. Finally, I must name Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young, who was just a week before his 20th birthday. With his wife Judith, he already had two children, who will never remember their heroic father. He died in hospital a day after the attack.Neither must we forget—and we have not raised this matter—that the same IRA team, which must have consisted of several people, was also responsible for a second explosion that day. It killed seven Royal Green Jackets bandsmen in Regent’s Park a few hours later. It would be remiss of me not to at least name them, too. Their names, without rank, because it does not matter anymore, were Graham Barker, Robert Livingstone, John McKnight, John Heritage, George Mesure, Keith Powell and Laurence Smith. May their souls also Rest in Peace.I gather that Mr Downey has at some stage raised horses, which I find somewhat ironic, and I would dearly like to see him brought to trial in whatever way we can. However, I accept that may seem unlikely, but in the meantime, as I have mentioned, there were others in his team. One other person has also been identified and taken to court, but there must have been others in the team that carried out this attack. Everyone in this Chamber without exception will agree with this: let all who have committed criminal acts in Northern Ireland sleep unsoundly. I very much hope that one day the authorities will knock on their door, wherever they are, and bring them to book.