ITLOS is an intergovernmental body under UNCLOS and consists of 21 judges and makes maritime rules for the international community to follow

Chinese Ambassador to Hungary Duan Jielong has been elected as a member of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), a development that many were apprehensive about.

As soon as the declaration was made, the Chinese media started to pat the ‘international community’s’ back calling it a ‘slap in the face’ of the United States, while many others criticised the move calling Chinese Ambassador’s selection like ‘a fox in the hen house.’

Duan Jielong, currently serving China’s Ambassador to Hungary was on August 24 elected as one of the six members of ITLOS, in the first round of voting by the States Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The election happened on the seven vacant seats of ITLOS.

The six other members included representatives of Malta, Italy, Chile, Cameroon and Ukraine. Voting on one remaining seat is yet to take place between Jamaica and Brazil.

ITLOS is an intergovernmental body under UNCLOS and consists of 21 judges. The tribunal makes maritime rules for the international community to follow.

Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua took to Twitter to break the news. It wrote, “Chinese Ambassador to Hungary Duan Jielong elected member of international tribunal for law of the sea.”

China’s Global Times started praising the international community saying that the selection reflects ‘the international community’s recognition of China’s claims and actions on maritime issues.’ It also called the move ‘a slap in the face’ of the US.

On the other hand, the selection of Duan did not go down well with many others who called it a shameless move pointing out China’s violation of the 2016 South China Sea ruling by the UNCLOS tribunal.

Collin Koh, research fellow at the Singapore-based S Rajaratnam School of International Studies took to Twitter and wrote, “An affront to UNCLOS given how Beijing, a State Party, unashamedly thumbs its nose at the award of 2016 on the SCS.”

Other statements on Twitter included one by the Indo-Pacific News which wrote, “Nothing less than shameless!!! It’s like electing a thief to be a judge. #China, the country that still violates the 2016 #SouthChinaSea ruling by the UNCLOS tribunal, got elected to the tribunal.”

The selection was not taken well by many other Twitteratis who used phrases like, ‘pirate to guard the sea,’ ‘fox in the hen house,’ and much more to describe the selection of the Ambassador of such a country that itself violates the rules made by the tribunal.

On July 12, 2016, gave its verdict on the South China Sea Arbitration case brought up by Philippines against China in 2013. It questioned the legality of China’s Nine-Dash line covering most of the South China Sea which China considered ‘historically its’. After three years of hearing, UNCLOS ruled in favour of Philippines. It said that China has ‘no historical rights’ based on the ‘Nine-Dash line.’

China later rejected the ruling by the same tribunal which it is now boasting to be a part of.

The apprehensions related to a Chinese diplomat entering the UN tribunal were already being made since Duan was nominated to be a part of the tribunal between late July and early August.

US Assistant Secretary for State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, David Stilwell, at an online forum held by Think Tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies in early August had shown his anxiety on the move. According to a CNBC report, he had said, “Electing a PRC official to this body is like hiring an arsonist to help run the Fire Department.”

The development holds its importance in respect of global politics. It has come at a time when the whole world is sharing the anti-China sentiment which makes this selection even more significant.