MONTEREY, Calif. – Kathleen Walsh, associate professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, presented lectures on China at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center July 21.
Walsh spoke about two current topics of interest in international affairs in her presentation titled “21st Century China: U.S. partner, rival or adversary?” to students studying Mandarin Chinese and to Foreign Area Officers in language training at the institute.
“Western scholars don’t truly understand China. They try to predict where China might fail, but they are not doing a very good job of explaining why China has succeeded despite all the challenges and obstacles,” said Walsh.
The first topic covered the South China Sea and a recent ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Netherlands. On July 12, the court ruled in favor of the Philippines in the 2013 case Republic of Philippines v. People’s Republic of China in the Spratly Islands dispute.
The Spratly Islands are a cluster of more than 100 reefs, sandbanks and islets in the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, China and Taiwan all lay claim to some or all of the islands. The court’s ruling states that China’s claim of having historic rights to the islands is invalid under international law because China has artificially built up islands of interest, while technically no feature in the Spratly Islands meats the definition of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Additionally, it is not clear if China lays claim to only land territory or all the territorial waters surrounding the islands.
Either way, China has stated that it will not abide by the court ruling.
“I think this issue is going to be a turning point in China-U.S. relations and global affairs. It will determine if China is a partner, rival or adversary,” said Walsh.
Under the U.N. definition an island must be self-sufficient, with an ability to sustain human life, including the producing fresh water. However, China claims that each islet is in fact an island and contains its own exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. This is where the South China Sea dispute is today.