On 25 June 2016, the Presidents of Russia and China adopted a common Declaration on the Promotion of International Law in Beijing. The Declaration has already been subject to insightful commentary in the Western blogosphere, for example by Ingrid Wuerth.
The context of the Declaration is that both Russia and China have recently faced criticism for their attitudes towards, and even violations of, international law. In March 2014, the majority of states in the UN General Assembly considered Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula illegal under international law. On 12 July 2016, about two weeks after the Russian-Chinese Declaration was adopted, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case initiated by the Philippines, de facto rejected most of Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.
In this sense, the Russian-Chinese Declaration represents a defensive political document in which the signatory states reject Western suggestions that the two UN SC permanent members have a somewhat problematic relationship with international law. Within the Declaration, Russia and China offer their own interpretation of what the big picture of international law is – an interpretation according to which it is the West, especially the US, that emerges as an actor displaying a problematic record and attitude. It is important that the two powers have now officially come together to put forward a common interpretation on the big picture of international law. At least in Russia, strategic criticism of the Western approach to international law has been prominent in strategic documents for the last ten or so years.
One has to keep in mind that the discourse on international law within Russia and China differs considerably from the way it is typically understood and constructed in the West. However, the realization of this fact is not necessarily too deep in the West where at least academic discourse on international law is usually carried out as an intra-Western affair i.e. Western experts debating with other Western experts. Outside the West, international law is often portrayed as an hegemonic tool of the West. For example, in April 2016, the Director of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation and a leading practitioner in international law matters in Russia, Alexander Bastrykin, made a statement according to which, international law has for a while been used as an element of Western hybrid warfare against Russia. Read the rest of this entry…