China’s latest strategy in the disputed South China Sea

Photograph by Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs/AP Photo

Photograph by Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs/AP Photo

The highly disputed South China Sea is becoming increasingly complex as regional countries find innovative ways of increasing their legitimacy in the international fora.

China is building a number of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea (see BBC’s special report on the subject here), with the intent of setting up military bases and transferring Chinese nationals in order to make them inhabitable. Such a move serves Chinese interests, namely to attain more legitimacy and greater advantage when dealing with claims from their “Sea” rivals, namely the Philippines and Vietnam, among the international community.

By creating artificial islands, China is outmaneuvering rival claims and manipulating the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to its own advantage. According to Part VIII of the UNCLOS, “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf“. Considering this, in the likely event that China manages to make those islands inhabitable, Beijing is set to present an event stronger claim, which will make it harder for rival countries to counter. And when the diplomatic way becomes insufficient, other ways may come to surface (increasing military escalation in the Sea?).

Pakistan: an uncertain democratic near-future

indexPakistan’s first democratically elected government may face a tantamount challenge in the forthcoming weeks.

Two opposition groups, respectively led by a former cricket star, Imran Khan, and a Muslim cleric,Tahirul Qadri, are gaining momentum as popular grievances towards the prime-minister’s cabinet grow. Although both groups have a similar base of support – religious-based movements – and motivations – government corruption and nepotism -, they differ in their line of actions: Khan has a pro-taliban stance, while Qadri has been publicly against it. In responding to call by these two political leaders, hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Islamabad, causing instability and even fierce clashes with police forces.

Despite this apparent potentially ‘killer move’, there are however good news: Pakistan political parties, from left to right, refuse to support a forced overthrow of the government, defending the electoral primacy and its legitimacy.

Surpsingly (or not),the army has taken a quite different position from its traditional role as a game changer when the political and social environment becomes unstable and unbearable: instead of intervening to restore order and remove the widely disliked government, army high officials appealed for calm and showed its strong resolve for not intervening in Pakistani politics, above all in the removal of the first democratically elected government that has rule the country for only a year and a half.

The former ‘cricketer’ refuses to condemn the attacks and atrocities committed by extremists, has been showing a staunch opposition to American drone attacks on the Taliban, and is even dubbed by some sectors of civil society as “Taliban Khan”. The cleric’s different views on the subject of violent extremism and the taliban, serves to divide the society’s religious base, thus depriving Khan of an otherwise vital base of support.

Nonetheless, fears are that the polarization in Pakistani society may lead the Taliban to back Khan. Therefore, one should not disregard the possibility that further social upheaval may occur, and possibly a resumption of terrorist attacks (such as bombings) across security and public locations and infrastructures.

What can we expect over the coming days? Will we witness a use of force by the Pakistani army to quell the protests? Or will we see the army assuming its traditional role of ‘weight and measure’ for the government’s popular legitimacy and take the helm of the country? The future is uncertain and regional stability is contingent on what might happen. Most noteworthy is the uncertainty of the volatile situation in Afghanistan and the dispute over Kashmir with India – the neighbour nuclear power that is now ruled by a nationalist party, led by Narendra Modi, intended to take a more hawkish stance in regional affairs.