On March 30, the Philippines submitted a memorial detailing its arguments and evidence against China’s nine-dash line and other aspects of Beijing’s South China Sea claims to an arbitration tribunal at The Hague. The 10-volume, nearly 4,000-page document marks a bold step by Manila, and one that Beijing seems to have believed never would actually happen. The Philippines chose the right course. Now the international community must weigh in and convince China of that fact.
China has refused to take part in the case since it was first brought by the Philippines in January 2013. It has also exerted considerable pressure on Manila to abandon the arbitration proceedings. As the deadline for the memorial approached and pressure failed to alter the Philippine position, Beijing switched to the carrot. It reportedly offered Manila incentives to drop the case, including trade benefits and a mutual withdrawal of ships from Scarborough Shoal, which China occupied in April 2012. But the Philippines did not budge. An incident near a reef in the Spratly Islands on March 29 helps explain why.