Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. So, why are the Brits getting so hot and bothered about international law, Hong Kong, China and the South China Sea?
Here, we are talking about undermining international law to protect an American military base with nuclear weapons and the refusal to fully decolonise in the Indian Ocean.
That’s the British-administrated Chagos Archipelago, where the largest island, Diego Garcia, has a long and tragic history of hosting a military and nuclear weapons base run by the United States. You can guess why Britain has consistently refused to give it back to once-colonised Mauritius.
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Last year, at the request of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice in The Hague offered an advisory opinion that Britain should return the territories to Mauritius. The advisory has no enforcement power, but is part of international law.
According to a study published by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, the “Naval Support Facility in Diego Garcia is a key part of the US global military network. Britain has defied (international) calls to hand the islands back to Mauritius”.
Mauritius has already promised to allow Washington to keep the military base. However, it is a signatory to the Pelindaba Treaty, which establishes Africa as a nuclear-weapon-free zone.
As explained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the treaty “prohibits in its territory the stationing of any nuclear explosive devices”, while allowing parties to authorise visits or transits by foreign nuclear-armed ships or aircraft. It also prohibits nuclear weapon tests and radioactive waste dumping. Two supplementary protocols to the treaty provide for non-African nuclear powers to agree that they won’t “contribute to any act which constitutes a violation of this treaty or protocol”.
The US has refused to ratify the treaty, but China, France, and Britain are full signatories. However, Britain has claimed its Chagos possession is exempt from the treaty. Washington, of course, trusts its “junior” partner over any African country, especially when it has been parking nuclear weapons in their backyards.
As Stephen Allen, a legal scholar at Queen Mary University of London, wrote in World Politics Review, “the UK’s position on the Chagos Islands is strategically ill-advised. It leaves London vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy at a time when it is trying to present itself as a supporter of a free and rules-based international order”.
Here’s an idea: everyone stop pointing fingers and behave themselves.
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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