Third parties are only making things worse

Updated: 2016-07-11 07:58

(China Daily)

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Third parties are only making things worse

Missile destroyer Guangzhou launches an air-defense missile during a military exercise in the water area near south China's Hainan Island and Xisha islands, July 8, 2016. Chinese navy conducted an annual combat drill in the water area near south China's Hainan Island and Xisha islands on Friday. [Photo/Xinhua]

Curiously enough, there seems to be a shared belief that the upcoming ruling from a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, due Tuesday, will be a win for Manila, a loss for Beijing.

But win or lose, the ruling makes no difference to Beijing because it deems the arbitration illegitimate as the court has no jurisdiction.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's government may or may not hype up a favorable ruling from the arbitration tribunal, since binding himself too tightly to his predecessor's bandwagon will effectively throttle any hope of repairing his country's broken ties with China. But no matter if the ruling goes in his country's favor, it will not be executable given Beijing's non-acceptance.

It will hardly be a surprise if Beijing then finds itself facing a new barrage of higher-pitched admonishments to "respect international law".

Washington will lose no time doing the upbraiding in the company of Tokyo and a number of die-hard others. There is no better ammunition for their purposes than a ruling against Beijing made in the name of international law.

But then what?

Like it or not, Beijing's rebuttal is anything but vexing. Beijing has been making its case by the book. Even its decision not to participate and not to accept has jurisprudential support under international law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea included. After all, Beijing's questions about due procedure alone suffice to invalidate any judgment the arbitration tribunal makes.

Considering the need of some countries for China to fit the role of bully in the South China Sea, they will certainly exploit a ruling against Beijing. But in so doing, they will not advance their claimed goal of "rules-based order" in the South China Sea.

Tensions in the waters had not become a prominent regional concern or escalated to current levels until Washington stepped in and Tokyo decided to lend it a hand, encouraging the likes of former Philippines president Benigno Aquino III to fancy illicit gains would be easy pickings.

But Beijing will not step back, and will not allow what it sees as a wolf-pack scheme to succeed.

The best possible outcome of the arbitration, therefore, may be an endless circle of finger-pointing, if the parties in the drama are able to keep their conflict rhetorical.

With that in mind, Washington may want to seriously rethink its approach, because dispatching gunboats is not working. Neither is the "lawfare" underway.