When an international court ruled in late October that it had jurisdiction to hear a case filed by the Philippines against China over the disputed South China Sea, Beijing dismissed the decision, saying it would “lead to nothing”.
Philippine officials as well as some foreign diplomats and experts disagree, saying China could come under intensified diplomatic and legal pressure if the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ultimately decides in favor of Manila.
Legal experts say Manila has a significant chance of success, citing the court’s detailed rejection of China’s arguments in the hearing on jurisdiction. A final ruling is expected in mid-2016.
Such a judgment would likely be a millstone around China’s neck, especially at regional meetings, because it would mark the first time an international court has intervened in the dispute, making it harder for Beijing to ignore, the diplomats and experts said.
Barely noticed when Manila filed the case in 2013 and largely seen as a sideshow since then to the tensions playing out on the waterway itself, some Asian and Western countries have started expressing growing support for the court process.
One expert said if the ruling went against China on key points he would expect to see coordinated positions from Western nations that would keep the pressure on Beijing in bilateral meetings and at international forums.
“Other countries will use it as a stick to beat Beijing with. That’s why China is so freaked by this whole issue,” said Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies.