The bridges for peace in Asia

An international court’s ruling is expected to challenge China’s claims to islands far from its shore. The ruling will be an opportunity for Asia to assert rule of law and a code of conduct for the many island disputes.

REUTERS
Protesters hold placards and streamers during a rally regarding the disputed islands in the South China Sea, in front of the Chinese Consulate in Makati city, metro Manila, April 9.

In coming days, an international court will rule on whether China violated maritime law by claiming – and also taking – a few tiny islands close to the Philippines. China already says it will ignore the panel’s ruling, which is the very reason for the case: Can there be any rule of law in Asia over competing claims to disputed islands?

China’s rise as a military and economic power has challenged much of the international order set up after World War II. Either as a member of international bodies or from the outside, it has sought to not only change established principles but, in many ways, break them.

It has done this on matters of trade, finance, the internet, and other areas critical to peace or commerce. Twenty years ago, the US Navy was forced to send aircraft carriers to Taiwan after China launched rockets near the island nation to try to scare it into submission.

Now China will likely disregard the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the panel which is expected to rule in favor of the Philippines in that country’s argument that it controls the shoals, reefs, and rocks near its shores. China’s legal argument is a weak one, based on ancient trading routes and one of a hand-drawn map known as a “nine-dash line.”

The many islands in the South China Sea have strategic value. The sea is a major waterway for shipping. Its waters and seabed are rich in resources, from fish to oil. But more than these material concerns, the territorial disputes show the need to end the “fear that coercion and threats will take the place of rules and laws,” as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe puts it.

In a recent speech, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter warned that the effect of China’s provocations in taking islands “reflects the region’s distant past, rather than the principled future we all want for the Asian Pacific.”

China’s challenge strikes at the idea that universal values can govern humanity’s interactions. That idea is why the United States, since World War II, has committed itself to defending many nations in Asia, from South Korea to the Philippines. If China were to further take islands from a US ally like the Philippines, Americans would be confronted with fulfilling a treaty obligation – and their own history of spreading the values that most nations now embrace in global bodies. A small court’s ruling in Europe will need to be watched very closely.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.