Conflict refers to an open clash between two opposing individuals or groups. It could also mean a state of opposition between ideas, persons or interest. One notable example of conflict is that of the east and south-east sea of China. The conflict which has prevailed to present day dates back to the 17th century during the Sino-Japanese war. There has been rising concerns that the conflicts could lead to a serious world war because of the involvement of world superpowers that have an interest in the region. Therefore, there is need to find a solution to the prevailing conflict in the region to prevent any impending wars. Consequently, in a bid to seek crisis resolution measures, this paper will look into accounts of ancient Greek philosophy and suggest relevant theories that would be beneficial in resolving contemporary conflict in the region. Justice is a prerequisite in resolving any conflict or dispute thus this article will dwell on the works of one of the earliest Greek social thinkers Aristotle. It will focus on Aristotle’s justice.
Despite rival countries wrangling over territorial waters in the South China Sea for centuries, there is cause for concerns over the steady rising tension in the recent past. China has continued to back their claims with naval patrols and island building while the United States have expressed concerns over unlawful sovereignty claims and restriction on freedom of navigation by the rival countries. Countries involved in the dispute are North and South Korea, Japan, China, Vietnam, and the Philippine. The dispute is mainly about sovereignty and territorial powers over ownership of two island chains called, the Spratly and Paracels islands. Alongside these islands, other features of contention are atolls and reefs like the Scarborough Shoal.
The value of these islands is the main reason of contention among the rival countries. The islands posses large reserves of natural resources that have least or not yet been explored. Some of these resources are oil, natural gas and marine life. Another reason for the dispute is that the region is a significant shipping route and harbor fishing grounds that support the livelihoods of those living around. Therefore, most of the rival countries are striving to control a larger portion of these resources. Though, China is the only nation in the middle of the dispute because it competes with the other smaller nations to seize control of all region.
Regarding sovereignty claims, China leads by claiming the largest portion of the territory defined by nine-dash line. It is the area stretching several miles south and east of the province of Hainan. These claims date back to 1947. Vietnam, on the other hand, is of the contrary opinion and claims ownership of the two island chains as dating back to 17th century. The Philippines are the other claimants who demand control of Spratly islands due to their proximity to the islands. Another area of contention is the Scarborough Shoal, which is being contested by China and the Philippines. The eastern regions of China that consist of the Diaoyu and Senkaku islands are also hot spots for major standoffs between the Japanese, Koreans and Chinese. Other small nations involved in the dispute are Malaysia and Brunei (Gao & Jia, 2013).
The consequences of the recent conflicts have seen Vietnam lose quite some their soldiers to the Chinese battling over the two islands. In 2012 for example, China engaged in several maritime standoffs with both the Philippines and Vietnam. At some point, the Chinese angered both their rivals by establishing Sansha city. It was meant to be an administrative body with its headquarters in the Paracel Islands. Consequently, this led to the anti-China protest in the streets of Vietnam. In 2013, the Philippines made an attempt to take China to a UN tribunal under provisions of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea. These events have later been followed with the sailing of a destroyer by the US next to the artificial islands in an attempt to maintain freedom of navigation in the region.
Therefore, the rest of the world has maintained that they need international mediation over the issue. However, most people have raised concerns whether the Chinese will be able to oblige by the ruling. Also, recent attempts by the ASEAN to try to resolve the issue left the bloc divided (Glaser, 2012). The US went ahead to warn China to stop intimidating its rivals over the islands. It is, therefore, evident that the conflict is growing and further involving other countries outside the region.
According to Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, he describes justice as a state that ensures and restores a mean. Therefore, he went ahead to define justice as the mean state where people possess or have their proper due while on the other hand injustice entails people having too much or too little. In the case of the South China Sea, it is evident that injustice prevailed, and that is the reason they are in constant conflict. The battle for the islands by China is a form of injustice because China as country posses massive portion of land inland. Also, the smaller states possess small land. Some countries like the Philippines are situated close to the disputed islands, but China has insisted ownership. Therefore, as long as China continue to own massive tracts of land while its rivals posses a little, injustice will not end, and thus, conflict will prevail.
Justice has further been defined as the state of being lawfulness and fair. Laws exist to encourage individuals to be virtuous, thus just and lawful individuals will always be virtuous. The difference between virtue and justice is that the former tend to deal with the moral state while the latter deals with the relationship between individuals. Justice has further been split into universal justice that means the state of an individual which is fair and lawful. On the other hand, particular justice entails divisible goods of safety, money and honor, whereby the gain by one person translates into a loss of someone else (Greenberg & Cohen, 2014).
Particular justice exists in two forms namely distributive and rectifactory justice. Distributive is the distribution of wealth among the members of the community while rectification justice corrects unequal distribution of gain and loss between individuals. Thus, distributive is a form of virtuous mean that balances the vice of giving more than deserved and gave less. This form of justice lacks in the region, and that is why China feels like it should be the one in control of the contested resources.
Other forms of justice according to Aristotle are political and domestic justice. Political justice focuses more on the rule of law while domestic justice depends more on respect. Consequently, political law tends to rely more on natural law and thus same to everyone and in some instance to various legal conventions. China has demonstrated the lack of domestic justice by proceeding with constructions in the contested region instead of resolving the dispute. The Philippines have resorted to political justice by taking China to the UN tribunal under provisions of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea to demand their claims. It is a form of conflict resolution (Beckman, 2013).
Aristotle noted that true justice is derived from a virtuous disposition and that those who lack virtue may be unable to comprehend the just course of action. Laws may fail to apply perfectly thus failing to produce perfect justice. In such cases equity is important in rectifying the imbalance. Consequently, equity is, therefore, superior to legal justice but inferior to absolute justice. Now that China has failed to adhere to existing laws that regulate the sea the only solution to perfect justice would be to apply equity. It would ensure compliance by the parties involved in the disputes.
Justice ought to be distributed proportionately to resolve the conflict. The involvement of other parties like the United States ought to be impartial. As much as the US is determined to see China resolve the conflict fairly, they need to stop making suggestive moves like sailing in the Chinese territorial waters in the name of promoting freedom of navigation. It can anger Chinese and thus lead to a deadly war with nations like North Korea seizing opportunity to test their nuclear weapons in the war.
In conclusion, Aristotle might seek to apply his theories of justice to resolve the crisis of China’s attempt to claim islands claimed by Japan, Korea and the Philippines. It is necessary because Aristotle’s form of justice advocates for people having their proper due. Contrary to this would lead to injustices that result from one asking for more than his fair share. He proposed societies to endorse the spirit of equity to correct injustices that may result from failure to adhere to the law like the case of China and its rivals. Aristotle’s views find the conflict beyond resolution because the parties involved are not ready to embrace fairness and lawfulness that are the key prerequisite to justice and conflict resolution over resources. Therefore, for the crisis to be resolved the nations need to apply all the forms of justice as suggested by Aristotle.
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