On February 15, High Mowing School hosted a Model United Nations Conference. High Mowing students were joined by peers from Alvirne High School and Monadnock Waldorf School to debate one of the more difficult geopolitical issues of the 21st century: China’s Claims in the South China Sea and the islands in dispute between China and Japan.
This conference was a gathering of the UN Security Council, one of the UN’s six principal bodies. The Security Council is tasked with maintaining international peace and security. To prepare for such a complicated topic, the students start researching weeks in advance. Using sources like the Council on Foreign Relations and the World Factbook, they write position papers—short essays describing their countries’ respective position on the issues at hand. The complexity of the issues and the scope of the conference forces delegates to work together towards agreements on difficult issues.
Model UN Conferences begin with the chairperson(s) opening the Speakers List and beginning Formal Debate. (High Mowing Seniors Oliver Durnan and Tristen Rodgers chaired this conference.) All day the students debated the ins and outs of the difficult questions surrounding China’s claims—and what to do about them.
As the day wore on the delegates found themselves in the same predicaments as their real life counterparts. True to current events, China was uncompromising, Japan and the U.S. pushed for an agreement but likewise didn’t offer many meaningful concessions, and many of the nearby nations—Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam—formed a bloc trying to containing China’s widening sphere of economic and diplomatic influence.These questions are anything but simple. China’s nautical claims overlap with existing claims of other nations in the area. China and Japan are also in the middle of a dispute regarding a few small, uninhabited islands. Those islands, and to whom they rightfully belong, has created a tense atmosphere in East Asia as China and Japan exchange diplomatic jabs and attempt to project power.
At several points the conference moved into moderated caucuses—structured debates during which the delegates discuss specific issues such as the disputed islands. The conference also moved into unmoderated caucuses on several occasions so that delegates could speak outside the confines of formal debate. Much of the real work happens during these unmoderated caucuses, as the delegates write, re-write, and polish draft resolutions to present to the wider conference. At several points in the afternoon it seemed that the delegates might arrive at a consensus regarding the conflicting claims in the South China Sea.
But consensus is not enough in the Security Council. In addition to a majority vote, unanimity is required of the Permanent Five—the five nations with veto power—in order for a draft resolution to become a resolution. China, one of the Permanent Five, used that power three times.
Sometimes Model UN Conferences can wander into realms of political fantasy as the delegates try to develop a draft resolution that stands a chance of passage. But this conference, true to the real world, ended in stalemate.