China’s snub: lost opportunity to prove its claim to the West Philippine Sea


By Harry Roque @

Only two hours ago,   the Chinese Foreign Ministry through Ambassador Ma informed Filipino diplomats  that they were rejecting the notice to arbitrate and the statement of claims which the Philippines furnished the Chinese delegation in Manila to arbitrate the legality of the Chinese nine-dash lines under the compulsory and mandatory dispute settlement procedure of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This means that China will now snub the arbitration and will not participate in the proceedings.

This is truly unfortunate. China has repeatedly maintained that it exercsies” undisputable sovereignty and rights” in the waters within its  nine-dash lines. And yet, it has failed to explain the nature and the basis of its claims. The arbitration would have been the appropriate forum where it can regale the rest of the world with both its legal and factual basis for its claim to title to a greater portion of the west Philippine Sea. With this latest decision, the world is again left to wonder what, if any, China’s legal basis is.

The arbitration under Annex VII of the UNCLOS will of course proceed. The Philippine has appointed a former president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and still a sitting Judge  in the tribunal, Rüdiger Wolfrum, a German national as its arbitrator for the proceedings. The Chinese snub now makes it incumbent on the current President of the ITLOS, Shunji Yanai, a Japanese national, to complete the five man tribunal. Thereafter, it is expected that the Tribunal will sit as the lone judge of its own competence. It will have to determine whether the issues submitted by the Philippines, to wit: the legality of the nine-dash lines, the status of the waters outside of the 12 nautical miles of the Panatag shoal, and whether low tide elevations currently occupied by China in the disputed Spratlys group of islands form part of the continental shelf of the Philippines.

China;s snub, while regretful, has nonetheless made our task to resolve the West Philippines dispute somehow easier. As in all forms of litigation, an ex-parte submission is always easier than a disputed proceeding.