A New Legal Landscape in the South China Sea


We need to fully grasp the significance of the Philippines v. China verdict.

On July 12, 2016, the arbitral tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration case instituted under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) between the Philippines and China handed out its final Award. It has been widely reported that the Philippines with this Award has scored a sweeping victory against China with regard to the latter’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. But describing this arbitration as a fight in which there is a winner and a loser belies the function of the dispute settlement system of UNCLOS. Nor does such a view properly appreciate the significance of the Tribunal’s ruling in the South China Sea disputes as well as its contribution to future cooperation in the interest of peace and prosperity in the region and beyond.

Authoritative Answers to Critical Legal Questions

As the Tribunal correctly observes, “[t]he root of the disputes […] lies not in any intention on the part of China or the Philippines to infringe on the legal rights of the other, but rather […] in fundamentally different understandings of their respective rights under the Convention in the waters of the South China Sea.”