by Alberto A. Encomienda
Introduction : Changed circumstances in international relations; “de facto”
As the world anticipates a New Era in a China Rising, some gratuitous suggestions are herein offered on how China can more effectively share the benefits and spread the burdens of a “shared future for mankind” that is Socialism with Chinese Characteristics; the Xi Jinping Doctrine. A starting point for this outward expansion of an otherwise motherhood political/ideological proposition, would be China’s maritime front yard that is the Central Indo-Pacific. The suggestions relates to the conduct of international relations in contemporary times that have become in all aspects of relations among nations – socio-economic/geo-economic and political/geopolitical, the most complex in history. The present economic and political environment in relations among nations entails essential adjustments in the existing world economic and political order, with new multiplier tools in the conduct of diplomacy and inter-state relations suited to the times. In the Central Indo-Pacific region, time is now of the essence and necessary adjustments is compelled and appropriate at this very moment in time. The current trials and tribulations in the world today muddling through a broken post-World War II system, is akin to the “scourge of war” that the last half-century have tried to fix through the Charter of the United Nations. Thus necessitating a “mid-course adjustment”. The suggestions arises from a perspective of a Central Indo-Pacific regional country and ASEAN member State.
As regard to the broken existing world order, a case in point relates to the international political/geopolitical picture. Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations on collective security and the peaceful settlement of disputes between States, and Chapter VIII on Regional Organizations for keeping the peace appropriate for regional action, have not unfolded as originally conceptualized. To some extent lucky, there was just enough space in post-war peace to establish what were perceived as ideal political and economic world order and institutions for a peace for all time to serve perceived ideals that includes peace-building and peace-making processes, but which never saw a full and desirable maturing. The world political/security order under post-war construction was almost instantly accelerated to the Cold War, rendering the post-World Wars I and II ideals of peace and development institutions almost unrecognizable except in name. For one, the “use of force” and adaptations of gunboat diplomacy that now includes the B-1B strategic bomber diplomacy, continues on nonchalant. For another, the new international economic order that arose from the foundations of the Bretton Woods Institutions have become supplemental instruments of conflict and coercion i.e. economic sanctions, rather than dedicated tools for peace and development. Finally, the other obverse side of the post-World War II coin of peace and development i.e. across the board disarmament as a very prominent agenda item in the General Assembly of the United Nations, is stuck at disarming North Korea of nuclear weapons.
[On the use of force, the latest and strongest revelation that major Western Powers still adhere to the medieval doctrine of “might is right”, categorically eschewed in the Charter of the United Nations and the very rationale for its creation, are two events that are seemingly related :
An opportunity to refashion international economic and political interaction between States may yet be in an Indo-Pacific regional cradle with a rising star in the north in the lead. China’s message and statement to the world is about pursuing peace through shared development and prosperity. Two years ago the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative was announced to the world, which is about expanding trade and development reconstructing the overland and maritime silk roads backstopped with infrastructure and finance facilities. On the finance aspect, OBOR modifies and sanitizes the present political/security complexion of the Bretton Woods Institutions. From all indications, the OBOR and support institutions have seen a largely favorable reception and participation among Central Indo-Pacific countries.
A “revolutionary” evolution in the conduct of world economic relations
In the above two aspects in the present-day life among nations – economic and political, necessary changes or adjustments to existing arrangements for guaranteeing world security and instruments of development and prosperity, cannot anymore happen as originally conceived and provided for in the relevant international instruments involved. For example, the amendatory provisions in the Charter of the United Nations and the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are well past-due in their compulsory review provisions. A second possible ammendatory mode built-in into the abovementioned international agreements, the most important that the world has ever witnessed since unprecedented in the complexity of its formulation, and that is directly relevant to the current situation in the Central Indo-Pacific and possibly elsewhere in the world, is accepted and demonstrated as unworkable. Any amendments or changes in the above aspects in international relations, otherwise rules-based under international agreements, can henceforth happen only through customary State Practise or progressive development of international law through State Practise.
As suggested, in earlier times, political and economic spheres of influence was established through the use of force. An area of significant modern developments is in regard to the international economic order in a new phase relating to market expansion. Historically, the initial first phase in the early push towards expansion of the domestic market economy can be said to be the colonial era that began with the Age of Discovery in Europe. This was a one-way thrust towards acquisition of new territories to secure commodities needed for the colonial masters. This early manifestation of outward expansion of domestic economic activity was accomplished through the use of force (to adapt a terminology of modern times) or at least the coercive manifestations and display thereof, as abovesaid. A whole new world was subjugated towards this purpose, including the United States of America.
Just as soon as the United States of America was able to break free of its British colonizers, proclaiming political slogans that still echoes up to the present times, it imposed its new-found political clout and military strength by force in its Caribbean front yard aimed at cleansing the regional sea of unwanted foreign influences; and shortly thereafter marching inexorably towards the Pacific Ocean. This can be said to mark a second phase in the “use of force” for market expansion, led by the United States of America, when it forcibly opened markets across the Pacific in East Asia that included Japan, Philippines and China.
The early shape and beginnings of a new era in international economic
and political order – ENTER THE DRAGON ?
There are clear indications that the world at this point in time is entering a third phase of world economic and political order that can quickly reshape that constructed in the wake of the First and Second World Wars. After a hundred years of humiliation, China has largely successfully reconstituted (except for Taiwan, an unfinished revolution), reconsolidated and reasserted itself under the Government of the People’s Republic of China. The recently concluded 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has proclaimed that China Rising is entering a new era of greater engagement in the world, spreading “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”. In this new era in China Rising, the overt manifestations in implementing the Xi Jinping doctrine are the One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), oriented towards trade and development.
The regional thrust in the foregoing trade and economic initiatives is obvious; and the geopolitical and geo-economic regional fulcrum for China, as it has been since time immemorial, is the Central Indo-Pacific; and so it seems destined to be in the Asian Century. It is a peace and development thrust through trade and not aid, and sans geo-political/political hidden agenda; a flashback to the Middle Kingdom. And in this outward bound expansion of national influence through the Xi Jinping doctrine, China must consider adding new avenues to promote the doctrine and its accompanying principles abroad. One area is in regard to regional ocean governance that would promote maritime security and connectivity which defines the maritime aspect of the expansion of trade and economic cooperation/integration complementary to the OBOR.
As above suggested, adjustments to world economic and political order is the call of times. And as above demonstrated, the OBOR and associated financial facilities can be a melding of economic and political elements; the new shape of things to come in the international arena. In the context of the Central Indo-Pacific as a virtual archipelagic continent, a social aspect would be the care of the marine environment and resources that has direct impacts on health and livelihood of coastal communities, and the regional blue economy as a whole. OBOR must therefore institute ocean governance as a region-scale associated protective measures, to borrow from an accepted IMO (International Maritime Organization) protective mechanism for sensitive sea areas.
Regional ocean governance complementary to the OBOR trading and commerce infrastructure
The Central Indo-Pacific as a maritime region that is a virtual archipelagic continent, imposes a challenge in regard to constructing maritime infrastructure to promote connectivity and maritime security. In present-day context, this would be the perfect ocean governance component infrastructure to the OBOR. An aspect of maritime security is in regard to ocean governance characterized in these contemporary times as non-traditional maritime security concerns, and wherein a legal and scientific regional framework is already contained in the UNCLOS at Part IX thereof on enclosed/semi-enclosed seas; and therefore rules-based. Regional ocean governance is an essential complement to the OBOR maritime infrastructure which, backstopped with finance support through the AIIB and economic framework under the RCEP, would facilitate regional economic integration projecting “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. Thus, a parallel burden for China, is establishing the ocean governance infrastructure constructed jointly and cooperatively with regional stakeholders and other interested States alongside the OBOR. Regional cooperation for ocean governance in the Central Indo-Pacific under UNCLOS Part IX would also serve as a political mechanism to strengthen socio-political links that is not about hegemonism nor constructing a sphere of influence.
In light of contemporary developments advancing marine environmental protection and resources conservation in ever larger swathes of the ocean environment, even beyond national jurisdictions, it is appropriate in the Central Indo-Pacific to develop a regional ocean governance strategy – an Ocean Governance PLUS. Such an overall regional ocean governance blueprint would dovetail into regional events such as the ASEAN Economic Community 2015 (AEC2015) striving for maritime security and connectivity. As above indicated, ocean governance would be an essential complement to the OBOR initiative backstopped by the AIIB and the RCEP; building-blocks that heralds China’s new era and facilitate regional economic and political integration. Ocean governance would be a critical thrust in the short to medium term which must be defined for a clear path forward. Needless to say, it is also all the more complex and complicated in the context of the characteristic regional features of the Central Indo-Pacific maritime region, and threats to the marine environment and human activities such as shipping.
A strategic regional action plan for ocean governance in the Central Indo-Pacific
To help define the agenda for an ocean governance strategic action plan for the Central Indo-Pacific, an important factor is a keen awareness and consideration that the strategic objective is to construct a collective and cooperative ocean governance for the Central Indo-Pacific, non-traditional maritime security concerns in the regional scope, for the following reasons:
The above scheme of things can be initiated under a China-Philippines partnership, but ultimately under ASEAN-China. China will expectedly attribute to itself a greater interest and attention to geo-economic and geopolitical aspects, as underpinned at this initial stage by the RCEP and the AIIB in the context of the OBOR. The Philippines would be best suited for a central role in regional ocean governance and non-traditional maritime security as dictated by its geo-strategic, geo-political and geo-economic centrality situation. This is a rather ambitious proposition for both countries, and the target maritime region for that matter, but built on coherence and comprehensiveness which cannot in any case be otherwise in the context of the Central Indo-Pacific.
The Role of Non-governmental Organizations in Post-Cold War International Relations
The recent political/geo-political history of the world have demonstrated that traditional interstate interaction through diplomacy is now supplemented through modalities with lessened sovereign characteristics, less formal avenues. In the Charter of the United Nations, an added level of direct multilateral interaction between governments of nation-States is through Specialized Agencies, inter-governmental organizations, or international organizations. They are Track 1 agencies but focused mainly on addressing what are now characterized as “non-traditional security concerns”. In the aftermath of the Cold War, a new civilianized version have arisen, variously known as Track 1 ½ and Track 2, that are involved in all spectrum of international relations - i.e. geopolitical/political and even economic and social fields called Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). NGO’s now truly plays the role of a shadow government as extension of Track 1, and officials and personnel are called “unofficial diplomats”. This represents a second very significant change in the conduct of official relations between States. They are also used by States as vehicles for reaching out through people-to-people exchanges.
The link between the development of foreign policy and its implementation in regard to Track 1 ½ and Track 2 organizations is encapsulated by US Secretary State Rex Tillerson explaining the role of USAID. In an interview after his remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC on October 18, 2017, and in reply to a question from CSIS CEO John J. Hamre, “What do you see as the relationship between the State Department and USAID going forward?” Secretary Tillerson’s reply to this specific question is reproduced below in full, in order not to compromise in any way on the clarity and content of his statement. Succinctly, he said as follows:
“State Department develops foreign policy, it develops the strategies and the tactics, and an important element of our execution of foreign policy is development aid and assistance, whether it be in direct humanitarian assistance, food programs to address dire needs, disaster response, or whether it’s in developing democratic capacity and institutional capacity. So USAID is an important enablement tool of the foreign policy. They don’t make policy, but they are critical to our execution of foreign policy. And that’s really where we want that expertise to reside, and I view them as in many – using lingo of my prior life, they are a center of expertise when it comes to aid and development programs. Nobody does it better than they do; not just directly, but they have tremendous organizational and convening capacity to work through other multilateral organizations. Whether it’s UN organizations, NGOs, direct in-country capability, they are really the experts in the world for doing that. They have the relationships, they have the contacts, they have the process, they have the procedures and they’re vital to our execution of foreign policy. And therefore, they become integral to how we develop foreign policy, how we test its viability, and then how we lay out the plans, the strategy and the tactics for executing against that policy. X X X So that’s – that’s the relationship and one of the things we want to be sure is that everyone understands their roles and everyone understands what’s not their role. On the State Department side, our expertise is the analysis, the assessment, the development of foreign policy, the carrying of the diplomatic integration of all of that. USAID, though, they are really the experts and that we’re – the State Department doesn’t have that expertise. It really resides over there.”
As seen from the above Tillerson account, an arm of the Department of State is USAID as a focused enabler and “diplomacy multiplier”, in what otherwise is also known as “soft power” diplomacy. The USAID model would be a good model for addressing non-traditional maritime security concerns through ocean governance with an all-inclusivity among stakeholders, whether regional States bordering the Central Indo-Pacific enclosed/semi-enclosed seas, other interested States, and relevant international organizations/non-organizations, in an UNCLOS Part IX implementation. UNCLOS Part IX at Article 123 have identified and included “relevant international organizations” as among stakeholders in ocean governance. It is not such a long stretch to include non-governmental organizations especially in their effectiveness in mission specialization and people to people reach-out, as cited by Secretary Tillerson.
Conclusion : In international relations . . . a rules-based anarchy? A misrule of law?
As it has always been since the birth of nation-States and diplomatic interaction among them, relations among nations have always been anarchical, and each State looks subjectively after its own vital interests. Any resulting agreement among States arises from a commonality or mutuality of interests. Accommodations, whether mutual or seemingly unilateral, always results from subjective assessments of vital interests. This is but the very nature of relations among nation-States. Another facet in the conduct of relations among States in regard to a jealous protection or promotion of national interests would be enforcing a proper rules-based order. This is because there is no supranational authority to impose or enforce order despite binding agreements. This was how it was always then as it is now, even in light of eloquent preambles proclaiming and declaring the sanctity of treaties and international agreements, and their observance in good faith. The time-honored principle of PACTA SUNT SERVANDA has been honored more in the breach than in its observance, so to say. Moreover, it has an antidote that is REBUS SIC STANTIBUS or “changed circumstances” which a treaty partner can always invoke to unilaterally cancel a treaty. So is it with another international law principle of “jus cogens” or so-called preemptory norms. No treaty or peremptory principles of international law can beat human creativity in eluding agreed responsibilities and undertakings, especially on the part of the stronger State party.
The recent real time pronouncement of the above state of international affairs is “America First” and foremost, in all aspects and subjects of international relations. To borrow from an old worn-out cliché, international law is the refuge of scoundrels. This is nothing new and no surprise, it is International Relations and History of Diplomacy 101 revisited but, necessary for a proper understanding and appreciation of action by States claiming interests in the South China Sea. Realpolitic trump (pun intended) everything else in international relations. National interest is always primordial and predominating as in . . . AMERICA FIRST. In international relations, to borrow from the title of a famous book, the virture is always . . . SELFISHNESS. And, it might be added, implemented through an independent foreign policy.
With all its broken rules, it is still nonetheless a wonderful world community of nations and human progress. As it is said, this is an imperfect world. So perhaps it has to be likewise in regard to international relations. But while nevertheless striving for perfection, it must not be lost sight of that, absent a supra-national authority, all that nations can strive for is perfecting generally acceptable codes of conduct which again, cannot even be enforceable short of the possibility of retaliation in kind, the application of economic sanctions or threat or use of force, which in domestic national jurisdiction is called the crime of “grave coercion”. This state of affairs is now best demonstrated in The Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration (The Hague PCA) ruling in the rules-based UNCLOS unilateral compulsory arbitration case filed by the Philippines against China, which have instead concretized the conflict “status quo”. Another recent example is the case brought by Nicaragua against the United States of America before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in which the former prevailed, but the United States would not honor the ruling until persuaded by world public opinion before the United Nations General Assembly.
It is said that the peace that the world has seen since World War II, for seventy (70) years, which has been nothing much but the absence of war, is attributable to the United Nations Organization. Although it has become but a “talk shop”, it is said better than a “shooting war”. If there is no alternative to the present world order, then better an uneasy truce, what President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address described as “a hard and bitter peace”, than a “hot war”. World security is now enforced, not through collective security arrangements as defined in the Charter of the United Nations, but through “ad hoc” coalition security of the willing calling themselves the “international community”. This is invariably led by a Superpower champion of democracy and the rule of law, ultimately resulting in collective insecurity. The complete distortion of collective security has been seen to occur when economic enticements or withholding of economic benefits is dangled before intended or target participants, and thus resulting in either a coalition of the unwilling or those of the more-than-willing.
As earlier suggested, there is a lot of talk presently going on in regard to a new world order but harking back to the Peace of Westphalia, ushering a new era of collective security for our time. One can only hope, that this time around, things can be better at least in the Central Indo-Pacific region with added modern-day general principles and essential elements. Taking into account the political/geopolitical, economic/geo-economic and socio-cultural characteristics of the Indo-Pacific region, these new added elements can derive from the UNCLOS in particular at Part IX thereof relating to ocean governance in enclosed/semi-enclosed seas, regional security arrangements extracted from Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter, the Bandung Declaration, the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, the ASEAN Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality, and the ASEAN Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone treaty. A constructive value-added enhancement to the traditional conduct of international relations and diplomacy would be the role of non-governmental organizations as the more effective instrument for people-to-people reach-out, addressing non-traditional maritime security concerns. China’s new era must give this thrust important consideration with special focus on the Central Indo-Pacific and the blue economy.
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13 November 2017