A Tumultuous 2016 in the South China Sea

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This promises to be a landmark year for the claimant countries and other interested parties in the South China Sea disputes. Developments that have been under way for several years, especially China’s island-building campaign in the Spratlys and Manila’s arbitration case against Beijing, will come to fruition. These and other developments will draw outside players, including the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, into greater involvement. Meanwhile a significant increase in Chinese forces and capabilities will lead to more frequent run-ins with neighbors.
Alongside these developments, important political transitions will take place around the region and further afield, especially the Philippine presidential elections in May. But no matter who emerges as Manila’s next leader, his or her ability to substantially alter course on the South China Sea will be highly constrained by the emergence of the issue as a cause célèbre among many Filipinos who view Beijing with wariness bordering on outright fear. The same dynamics are at play in Vietnam, where the course of South China Sea policy is not expected to change following last month’s Communist Party congress despite the re-election of Nguyen Phu Trong, who is generally seen as more pro-Beijing, as party chief.
A Ruling from The Hague
The Philippines argued the merits of its case against China’s claims in the South China Sea before an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in November 2015. Afterward the five judges asked the Philippine legal team for written answers to a final round of follow-up questions. They are now expected to enter deliberations and issue a ruling around late May. That decision will be final and legally binding on both parties, despite Beijing’s refusal to take part in the proceedings or recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

Read more: http://csis.org/publication/tumultuous-2016-south-china-sea

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