South China Sea-International Tribunal rules in favour of Philippines


July 12, 2016

South China Sea-International Tribunal rules in favour of Philippines

https://www.washingtonpost.com

Crew members of China’s South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in May. (Str/AFP/Getty Images)

An international tribunal has ruled that China does not have historic rights to justify its expansive claims to the South China Sea, in a major blow to Beijing.

China has repeatedly made it clear it will not accept, recognize nor implement Tuesday’s ruling on the South China Sea, the hotly contested waterway that contains some of the world’s busiest shipping routes. But the verdict, which came in strongly in favor of the Philippines and against China, will nevertheless undermine its claim to sovereignty under the nine-dash line which it draws around most of the South China Sea.

The tribunal ruled that “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources … within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’.”

In a statement, the Philippines’ Secretary of Foreign Affairs welcomed the ruling, calling it a “milestone,” but urging “restraint and sobriety” among all concerned.

“The verdict is the best case scenario that few thought possible,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Manila’s De La Salle University.

“It is a clean sweep for the Philippines, with the tribunal rejecting China’s nine-dashed line and historical rights claim as well as censuring its aggressive activities in the area and, among others, the ecological damage caused by its reclamation activity.”

Hours before the verdict was announced, China repeated its rejection of the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

“The so-called arbitration tribunal, from the very beginning, was established on the basis of illegal behaviors and appeals of the Philippines,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news conference before the ruling came out. “Its existence does not have legitimacy. Any ruling it might make will be illegal and invalid.”

The tribunal was never going to completely resolve the dispute over maritime sovereignty. But the strong ruling could inflame regional tensions, and whether it leads to more friction between China and the United States.

The Philippines took China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague in January 2013 after the Chinese navy seized control of Scarborough Shoal, a largely submerged chain of reefs and rocks set amid rich fishing grounds off the main Philippine island of Luzon.

The United States has been leading international calls for China to respect the tribunal’s decision, and the issue has become a key test of its ability to maintain its leading role in Asian security in the face of China’s rising power.

The Philippines took China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague in January 2013 after the Chinese navy seized control of Scarborough Shoal, a largely submerged chain of reefs and rocks set amid rich fishing grounds off the main Philippine island of Luzon.

The United States has been leading international calls for China to respect the tribunal’s decision, and the issue has become a key test of its ability to maintain its leading role in Asian security in the face of China’s rising power.

Beijing has refused to participate in the arbitration process, and instead launched a global propaganda campaign to make its case. Foreign Minister Wang Yi was quoted as telling his counterpart John Kerry last week the process was a “farce,” while his ministry says you have to be delusional to think China will bow to diplomatic pressure to accept the ruling.

Some $5 trillion in commerce, roughly one third of global trade, flow through the waters of the South China Sea every year, while its fisheries account for 12 percent of the global catch and significant oil and gas reserves are thought to exist under the sea floor. Yet the waters are some of the most fiercely disputed in the world, with claims to various parts staked by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

China’s nine-dash line, a version of which first appeared on its maps in 1947, loops through the vast majority of the South China Sea, and Beijing uses it to claim sovereignty over almost all the islands, reefs and rocks in the South China Sea.

Beijing says its sovereignty claims date back hundreds of years and are “indisputable.” In the past two years it has undertaken a massive land reclamation process in the sea, turning seven reefs and rocks into nascent military outposts, with several airstrips and radar installations under construction.

But the tribunal also backed the Philippines submission that none of those features are islands — as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS).

Only natural (rather than artificially constructed) islands that can sustain human habitation qualify for both 12-nautical miles of territorial waters and 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) under UNCLOS.In other words, the ruling drastically undermines China’s claim to the waters surrounding the island bases it is in the process of building.

China says the tribunal lacked the jurisdiction to rule on Manila’s various submissions, and says it has abused its powers.

In Washington last week, former senior official Dai Bingguo derided the ruling as “nothing more than a scrap of paper,” a refrain eagerly echoed by state media here. China also argues that the Philippines had previously agreed to resolve the dispute bilaterally.

But its legal case is undermined by a key provision in UNCLOS, which states that the tribunal alone can decide if it has the jurisdiction to rule on issues before it. In October last year, the tribunal decided it indeed had jurisdiction to rule on several key issues brought by Manila. The tribunal’s decision is legally binding, but it lacks any mechanism to enforce its rulings.

In rejecting the decision, Beijing is certainly not alone. No permanent member of the U.N. Security Council has ever complied with a ruling by the PCA on the Law of the Sea, wrote Graham Allison, Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. “In fact, none of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have ever accepted any international court’s ruling when (in their view) it infringed on their sovereignty or national security interests, Allison wrote in The Diplomat.

The United States has never ratified UNCLOS, and rejected a 1980 verdict at the International Court of Justice ordering it to pay reparations to Nicaragua for mining its harbors, he noted.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu accused the United States of “using international law when it favors itself while discarding it when it does not.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu accused the United States of “using international law when it favors itself while discarding it when it does not.”

Nevertheless, the case is an important indication of China’s willingness to submit itself to international law as its clout grows, and a sign of what kind of global power it wants to become.

Despite its efforts to dismiss and discredit the process, Beijing was certainly far from indifferent about the result, analysts said.What happens next will depend on how the key players — China, the Philippines and the U.S. — react.

The United States has already conducted several “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea, sending warships within 12 nautical miles of islands, reefs and rocks controlled by China and other claimants. It is also rebuilding military ties with the Philippines. China cites this as evidence that it is President Obama’s actions — not its island-building – that are responsible for militarizing the region.

Last week, the U.S. Navy said it had also sent destroyers to patrol close to some of the islands and reefs held by China, although those ships stayed just outside the 12-nautical-mile zone. Washington might decide to step up its patrols after the ruling.

China, meanwhile, could attempt to reinforce its de facto control by declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone over the South China Sea, under which any incoming aircraft would supposedly have to first declare their presence to Chinese authorities. Another option might be to build a new military base on Scarborough Shoal.

“If China declares an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, the U.S. is likely to challenge it with military fly-bys,” Yanmie Xie and Tom Johnston of the International Crisis Group wrote before the decision was announced. “If the U.S. conducts more frequent and higher profile freedom of navigation patrols near Chinese-held reefs, Beijing may feel compelled to intercept or even evict U.S. vessels. The risk of military clashes is small but cannot be ruled out.”

Yet there are also good reasons for all sides to react cautiously.China hosts a summit of the Group of 20 major economies in September, and is unlikely to want the meeting to take place amid an intense row over the South China Sea.

It is also likely to want time to gauge the reaction from Manila, where newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte has sent mixed signals over the issue.

Early in his presidential campaign, Duterte, a long-time mayor with limited foreign policy experience, implied he might be willing to soften his stance on China in return for Chinese infrastructure spending. Later, in a play to nationalist sentiment, he promised to ride a Jetski to Scarborough Shoal to plant the Philippine flag.

Since his inauguration, he has struck a more cautious tone. His challenge will be to appear strong at home to satisfy national pride, without needlessly angering Beijing.

Gu Jinglu, Xu Yangjingjing and Xu Jing in Beijing and Michael Goe Delizo in Manila contributed to this report.

9 thoughts on “South China Sea-International Tribunal rules in favour of Philippines

  1. Decisions do not apply to those in power as they are not enforceable.
    Audit findings involving those in power against no action is taken in all countries and religions or charities or NGOs.
    Nothing to be surprised about as it is international culture. US and others are known to disregard local laws for crimes committed by US soldiers in Okinawa Japan or in Other countries wherr US is occupying said to be with ‘consent’ of host countries for decades as if the host countries had any choices.
    Remember Wall Street whose ‘controllers’ sent millions into poverty but the ‘controllers’ continued to be free and enjoy their accumulated wealth by suspected fraudlent means. Several EU countries and US citizens are still suffering.

  2. Bottom line is peace and stability through negotiations bilateral or multi-laterally among the claimant countries for shared benefits and responsibilities in the SCS regions.Escalation of confrontation be it verbal or militarily must be totally be avoided and discouraged.

  3. PRC with her penchant for self abuse and legalistic manipulations, have lost much face-water over this ridiculous 9-dash cock-up. Imagine a wannabe super-duper wannabe taikor Tiger General bullying all his minuscule sai-los (lil brothers) – then gets a metaphysical slap on the cheek by the global kopitiam arbitrator? Even if it’s unenforceable.

    Enough to drive the ‘aggrieved’ Loser insane – what with their hubris of false ‘power projection’ and economic superman (er Copycat). Why didn’t they go the way of much milder Taiwan ROC, who offered joint development and economic synergy? Can bully, bully la.. seems to Dickhead J.P. Xi’s motto. As i said, The Maritime Silk Road and OBOR (One Belt One Road) will be a Xi’s genuine foreign policy toothache. Those Brexit Brits will call it ‘Poor Form’. So more threatening noisome fartings and ‘accidental’ HQ-9 launches – all in the name of face-water. Hell! That’s what the bloody Westerners nad Gretaer Nippon are waiting for..

    Looks like the Real Taikor will have to step in with their 7th Fleet, Los Angeles Subs, Aegis-THAAD, F-22s, F-35s and whatever lethal toys they have in their arsenal. The ROE will be pretty simple, from this day hence: Tactical nukes for tactical nukes.

    PRC becomes Greater China ruled in Taipeh, cuz Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities glow strangely in the dark – even without electricity.

  4. Even a superpower cannot ignore the rest of the world with might and just argumentative. Russia is learning the hard lesson of ignoring world opinion. The US paid a huge price in Iraq. China will learn the same lesson, they do not have enough money to buy world opinion even if they combine it with military might. They can only win with ideas the world want, its to the world’s benefit to want and China is as backwards as Islamic State in that regards..

  5. China wants to play the Big Boys game with big toys. Now China will have to abide by the rules of the Big Boys game. China can no longer act as a big bully to the smaller states around the South China Sea. The world is watching since China is one of the 5 states with Veto powers in the UN, what will be China’s next move.

  6. Congratulations to the Philippines. Compared to Malaysia and the Batu Puteh fiasco, at least a nation like the Philippines did their homework well to win. How silly the Malaysians must look , in the light of this decision .

  7. /// pestach July 14, 2016 at 12:43 pm
    Congratulations to the Philippines. Compared to Malaysia and the Batu Puteh fiasco, at least a nation like the Philippines did their homework well to win. How silly the Malaysians must look , in the light of this decision. ///

    I don’t think it is a matter of doing your homework well. If your case is poor, no matter how much homework you do, you will still do. Even if you have to resort to doctoring photographs. Maybe you should congratulate Singapore like you do for the Philippines.

  8. ” Maybe you should congratulate Singapore like you do the Philippines “. – The

    Yes , your point is well received . Both Singapore and Philippines seem to understand the Law of the Seas well enough and accordingly the ” homework ” they do must be of a very high standard.

    Personally i don’t think Malaysia lost Batu Puteh because their ” case is poor “. They lost because they did not do their homework. They expected their highly paid Queens council to do it for them.

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