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What the G7′s statement on Taiwan reveals about the ‘rules-based international order’

August 9, 2022 GMT

On August 3, G7 foreign ministers and the High Representative of the European Union issued a statement affirming their “shared commitment to maintaining the rules-based international order (emphasis added), peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and beyond”.

In China, this grouping has come to be known as the new Eight-Nation Alliance. The old eight ” the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France, Russia, Italy, Japan and Austria-Hungary ” invaded China in 1900 and forced the Chinese to sign one of the most unequal treaties, the Final Protocol for the Settlement of the Disturbances of 1900.

The August 3 statement also said: “There is no change in the respective one China policies, where applicable (emphasis added), and basic positions on Taiwan of the G7 members.”

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To me, this is a terrific statement in that it gives us a clue as to how the rules-based international order applies in a real case, such as the crisis caused by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. It shows the rest of the world and especially China what to expect under this order.

On the surface, “rules-based international order” is a new, neutral term meant to confer moral superiority on whoever is using it. The term has both legal and political significance and clearly originated from the United States, which is casting a wary eye on China’s rise.

As political scientist Joseph Nye suggested in 2019, if the growth of Chinese power means that the American liberal world order will have to shift, “it would be wise to discard the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘American’ and refer instead to the prospects of an ‘open and rules-based international order’”.

Now, to my limited knowledge as a student of international law for years, there are no similar terms described or defined in any classical text on international law. Indeed, the principles and rules of international law are rarely mentioned when the rules-based international order is invoked, as the US and its allies recently did with regard to Taiwan.

A weak and selective link between the rules-based international order and international law principles and rules may be intentional because a strong and general link would not suit the US and its allies. Other members of the international community have routinely opposed and challenged the rules relied on by the US and its allies.

The American liberal world order goes by another name now and yet, in confirming their commitment to the rules-based international order, the Group of Seven countries in their statement suggested that the one-China principle is not applicable to the crisis created by Pelosi’s Taiwan visit. This is a real slap in the face of a fundamental rule between these countries and China.

It is also a serious violation of the United Nations Charter, which provides in Article 2 that all UN members shall refrain in their international relations from violating the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the UN. Nothing in the UN Charter authorises either the UN or its members to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. Instead, the charter provides that all members shall fulfil in good faith the international obligations assumed by them.

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Fortunately, most members of the international community including the UN and other international organisations continue to uphold their commitment to the one- China principle: there is only one China in the world, Taiwan is part of China, and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government of China.

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This is the fundamental commitment made by all states ” including the new Eight-Nation Alliance ” when they establish diplomatic relations with China. It forms the foundation of their relations, due to the reality that the Chinese civil war has never officially ended.

In the meantime, an international order based on international law principles and rules must respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity and such an international order continues to receive the widest support from members of the international community. Thus, the G7 statement not only puts these countries’ relations with China at risk, but also discredits their version of the rules-based international order.

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A natural reading of the G7 statement leads to the inevitable conclusion that the rules-based international order favoured by the US and its allies is in essence an international order based only on the rules wherever they deem them to be applicable, even though this is against the principles and rules of international law.

Thus, a spokesperson for the Chinese mission to the EU rightfully responded with remarks that expressed the fury of 1.4 billion Chinese people: “More than a century ago, the Eight-Power Allied Forces invaded China. Today, the G7+1 has eight parties again. ... Do you think China is still the China of the past? Do you believe you can still have it your way and do whatever you please? Gone are the days when the Chinese people were bullied and pushed around by foreign powers.”

Indeed, when the Chinese people were first confronted by the international law brought to China by Western powers in the 19th century, we were told at gunpoint that full sovereignty was not applicable to us.

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Now, when Pelosi visits Taiwan with outright contempt for China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the new Eight-Nation Alliance is trying to tell us that the one-China principle, as well as international law principles enshrined in the UN Charter, do not necessarily apply under their rules-based international order.

Shame on you and your rogue-based international order.

Xu Xiaobing is director of the Centre of International Law Practice at Shanghai Jiao Tong University Law School

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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