China asks Singapore to respect its stance on the South China Sea dispute

China has asked Singapore to respect its decision to ignore the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruling made on 12 July 2016 .

The court ruled that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-segment line’. The contested area in the South China Sea includes the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, and various other areas including the Pratas Islands, the Macclesfield Bank and the Scarborough Shoal.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said China had made its position on the issue very clearly.  “The related ruling is illegal, invalid and has no binding force,” she said in a statement on 5 August.

“China hopes that Singapore can maintain an objective and fair position as the coordinator of China and Asean dialogue relations, so as to advance Sino-Singapore relations and healthy and stable China-Asean ties.”

The statement was made in response of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s comments at a reception hosted by the United States Chamber of Commerce and US-Asean Business Council in Washington on Tuesday, Singapore time.

He stated that every claimants, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and China want to go for a war over the dispute.

Mr Lee said, “They have interests, they have claims, they would want to maintain them, but nobody wants to go to war,” he had told US officials and business leaders.

Despite the fact that Singapore needs to maintain a good relationship with China, the country has to be careful of its stance taken on this matter.

On 14 February 1980, Singapore protested against the publication in 1979 by Malaysia of a map depicting the island as lying within Malaysia’s territorial waters.  It further observes that the dispute as to sovereignty over Middle Rocks and South Ledge crystallized on 6 February 1993, when Singapore referred to the two features in the context of its claim to Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh during bilateral negotiations.

And in 2008, Singapore and Malaysia went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, to fight over the sovereignty of Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

In its Judgment, which is final, binding and without appeal, ICJ decided on 23 May 2008, that Singapore has sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh; that Malaysia has sovereignty over Middle Rocks; and that sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located.

Tommy Koh, Ambassador-At-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in an op-ed at Straits Times, saying that states in South and South-East Asia have settled disputes through the international legal process and China should do likewise, and consider consensual methods such as mediation.

Mr Tommy emphasized that there are three points to conclude in the South China Sea dispute :

First, Asians want their region to be peaceful, stable and prosperous. They want the rule of law to be strong and for all disputes between states to be settled peacefully, in accordance with the law and not on the basis that might is right.

Second, with the exception of China, Asians do not have a negative attitude towards settling their disputes by arbitration or adjudication. China should, therefore reconsider its position in order to conform to the best Asian and international practice.

Third, in addition to arbitration and adjudication, there should be considerations on several consensual, win-win, methods of dispute settlement, such as fact-finding, mediation, conciliation and joint development.

While the bodies that decided on the South China Sea and Pedra Branca are different, although the general principle about the rule of law and accepting international law still stands.

Bear in mind that Singapore was awarded ownership of the reef through ICJ’s decision, therefore if Singapore decides to support China in disregarding the ruling, how would other countries (especially Malaysia) view the ruling that Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh belongs to Singapore?

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