Beijing lines up diplomatic battle groups over South China Sea


BEIJING, China — The disputed rocks and reefs of the South China Sea are more than an ocean away from the landlocked African nation of Niger.
But that has not stopped the strife-ridden, largely desert country of 17 million people adding its voice to a growing diplomatic chorus that Beijing says supports its rejection of an international tribunal hearing on the waters.

Others apparently singing from the same hymn sheet include Togo, Afghanistan and Burundi.

They are among the latest foot soldiers in “a public relations war” by China aimed at questioning international maritime rules, said Ashley Townshend, a research fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.
The tribunal case, brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague by the Philippines, is highly technical and hinges on such issues as how international law defines “islands”.
Niger joined the ranks of “over 40 countries that have officially endorsed China’s position” that the issues should be settled through direct negotiations, not international courts, said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
That, she added, was just the start: “There will be more and more countries and organizations supporting China.”
Similar announcements have become an almost daily ritual at China’s foreign ministry media briefings, as it steels itself for what is widely expected to be an unfavorable ruling by the tribunal that could come within weeks.
Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the whole of the South China Sea, on the basis of a segmented line that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s, pitting it against several neighbors.
But it is also a party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Manila accuses Beijing of flouting the convention and has called for the tribunal, set up in 1899, to rule on the row.

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