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  • Writer's picturePeter K F Cheung SBS

Learn From Portugal

  1. FADE IN.

  2. Act 1


  4. Relaxing on a sofa, PETER is reading a chat group message on his phone.

  5. PETER (V.O.): A law classmate asks about the authenticity of a legal opinion on law of the sea. It's a special subject of public international law.

  6. Pausing.

  7. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): In Hong Kong, one can get qualified as a lawyer without any knowledge of public international law. Knowing the law of the land is good enough.

  8. Pausing.

  9. PETER (V.O.)(Cont'd): My legal curiosity is much wider though. While doing my 2nd LLM in London, I studied Law of the Sea.

  10. Pausing.

  11. PETER (V.O.)(Cont'd): I also wrote a dissertation on international institutional law concerning the establishment of a Hong Kong Shipping Register before 1997.

  12. Pausing.

  13. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): I thought I could help resolve the legal problems in the South China Sea. I keenly followed the political developments.

  14. Pausing.

  15. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): But since the 2003 invasion of Iraq by US, UK, Australia and Poland, I've become realistic, as it was evident that the so-called civilized and peace-loving nations won't let law obstruct their acts of aggression and use of force to dominate others.

  16. Act 2


  18. Reading.

  19. PETER (V.O.)(Cont'd): When France imposed its colonial rule over Vietnam, it signed the Sino-French Treaty 1887 with old China to divide the Gulf of Tonkin - all the isles including the Spratly islands east of the treaty delimitation line were assigned to China.

  20. Pausing.

  21. PETER (V.O.)(Cont'd): During World War II, Japan took control over the Spratly islands and they were returned to China after the War.

  22. Reading.

  23. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): In 2006, China made a declaration under Article 298 (1) (a) of the UN Law of the Sea Convention 1982, ousting the Convention tribunals' jurisdiction to settle disputes relating to sea boundary delimitation or involving historic titles.

  24. Peter checks a new phone notification.

  25. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): A chat group shares a documentary about the Diaoyu islands in the context of historical imperial colonialism.

  26. Peter begins to watch the video clip.

  27. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): For the past couple of centuries, from Ming Dynasty to Ching Dynasty, there have been armed conflicts between China and Japan.

  28. Watching.

  29. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): In the 19th century, Imperial Japan wanted to conquer China.

  30. Watching.

  31. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): Old China was defeated and Diaoyu islands were seized by Imperial Japan as one of the spoils of war.

  32. Pausing.

  33. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): Other aggressive countries didn't hide their ambitions to carve out China too. Apart from Japan, the imperial colonial powers were UK, US, Australia, France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Russia.

  34. TV breaking news. Peter looks shocked.

  35. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): US diplomats refuse to engage Chinese diplomats? And then US demands China to close of its Houston Consulate in 72 hours?

  36. Pausing.

  37. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): On what grounds? Spying? And intellectual property too? China has been doing that for many years?

  38. Peter follows a commentary: the US administration is diverting its people's attention from the pandemic.

  39. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): The US administration is provoking anti-China sentiments internationally to assert its dominance and domestically to get popular support in its election year.

  40. Thinking.

  41. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): It's a big political trap which might lead to an all-out war. Will China keep cool til Nov this year?

  42. Sighing.

  43. Act 3


  45. Pausing.

  46. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): In the international context, the legal norms follow the customary practice.

  47. Pausing.

  48. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): Under customary international law, it's arguable that a country can make historical claims to territories.

  49. Pausing.

  50. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): As legal norms may change with times to reflect the reality, it is believed that effective control is the current legal norm.

  51. Reflecting.

  52. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): But, the international world order has never been perfect. Unlike municipal system, even the International Court of Justice doesn't have compulsory jurisdiction.

  53. Pausing.

  54. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): In the absence of an authentic third-party dispute settlement mechanism, one legal argument is just as good as another.

  55. Pausing.

  56. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): As law doesn't rule, tensions and conflicts never end. Would there be any peaceful conciliation?

  57. Thinking.

  58. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): In the 1400s and 1500s, Portugal was the first global sea power. It settled in the Chinese territory of Macao in 1557, and was also the last European power to return the colonial territory back to China ie in 1999.

  59. Pausing.

  60. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): Although Macao's gambling revenue is three times more than Las Vegas, its success hasn't made Portugal jealous. Portugal won't interfere in Chinese domestic affairs.

  61. Pausing.

  62. PETER (V.O.) (Cont'd): Couldn't other countries learn from Portugal in their China relations?

  63. Peter looks out of the window.

  64. THE END

  65. FADE OUT.

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