South China Sea Arbitration: Court Rules, But Who Will Enforce The Writ? – Analysis

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On 12 July 2016, the Tribunal constituted under Annex VII to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) located at The Hague in the Netherlands passed judgement on the case of the Republic of the Philippines V. the People’s Republic of China. The Award, concerning the historic rights and maritime entitlements of both the nations in the South China Sea was unanimous and almost entirely favoured the Philippines.

The Philippines had lodged the suit against China on 22 January 2013 in the international court. For the previous 17 years it had attempted to defend its legitimate maritime rights through political and diplomatic avenues and had been repeatedly beaten back. Only after exhausting all other means did it take recourse to International Law. While other nations in the South-East Asian region also have issues of sovereignty with China, none have so far dared to approach the Tribunal. The Philippines views China as yet another imperial power trying to browbeat it and its action must be seen as the manifestation of desperation on the part of a small nation.

China, on the other hand, had tried to pre-empt the ruling of the Tribunal going against it with a media campaign, while also offering to hold bilateral talks with the Philippines. It has harked back to an agreement with the Philippines, signed in 1995, where both parties had agreed to settle all differences and disputes through negotiation. Even before the ruling was given, China had stated that it would ignore the verdict, knowing fully well that the Tribunal has no authority or capacity to enforce the writ. Further, China claims to have the support of 40 nations for its stated position that supports bilateral negotiations. During the arbitration process itself China had officially stated that ‘…[it] will neither accept nor participate in the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines’. However, under the UNCLOS it is not necessary for all parties involved to participate in the process. It is the responsibility of the Tribunal to satisfy itself that the claim being investigated is well-founded in fact and law.

South China Sea Arbitration: Court Rules, But Who Will Enforce The Writ? – Analysis

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