Chinese business interests may have influenced a controversial territorial dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), according to two former Colombian government officials.
A Chinese judge at the court reportedly supported the Nicaraguans in a diplomatic conflict with Colombia as part of a major move to secure the building of the world's largest and deepest inter-oceanic canal, wrote Noemí Sanín, a former Colombian foreign secretary, and Miguel Ceballos, a former Justice vice minister, in a recent op-ed for Colombian magazine Semana.
In December 2001, the Nicaraguan government sued Colombia at the ICJ, claiming nearly 50,000 square kilometers of Colombian sea should belong to them. For nearly twelve years both countries presented arguments in front of the court amid rising diplomatic tensions and occasional military incidents near the maritime border. Finally, in November 2012, the ICJ issued a ruling that certified that most of the contended area belonged to Colombia. Nicaragua however, was awarded an area of nearly 7,500 square kilometer.
Nicaragua needed part of the awarded area to be able to build the massive inter-oceanic canal the government is envisioning, according to Sanín and Ceballos. The canal is set to be built in 10 years at an estimated cost of nearly $30 billion.
The alleged problem is that one of the judges who delivered the ICJ's decision is Xue Hanqin, a Chinese national who apparently knew the Nicaraguan ambassador to the court from a previous work position. The Colombians argue that Xue Hanqin probably knew about the canal and should have recused herself because her government had a major interest in the ruling's outcome. Since she didn't there are growing suspicions that she might have been working to advance China's economic and geopolitical agenda.
"Obviously, a world power like China is interested in having an inter-oceanic canal that allows it to easily connect the Pacific… and the Caribbean," Sanín told El Tiempo on Monday.
The Chinese have denied any involvement in the ICJ's decision. Yi Sun, an official from the Chinese embassy in Colombia, told W Radio that the allegations are false.
After Sanín and Ceballos's report, the ICJ ruling could, in theory, be revisited, according to the ICJ's rules. Although the scenario is unlikely.
"The decision lost its legitimacy because the ICJ not only disregarded the jurisprudence and the binding treaty between the two nations, but also scorned and forgot the value of history," Sanín said.