Though China has effectively boycotted the arbitration proceedings at The Hague, the Arbitral Tribunal has (once again) given Beijing the opportunity to respond to Manila’s claims and arguments. From the Philippines’ voluminous memorial, submitted in March 2014, to the Philippines’ additional arguments, submitted a year after, China has been repeatedly given the opportunity to make a counter-claim and defend its case. No wonder then, the arbitration procedures has taken such a long time.
Assuming the Philippines wins the jurisdiction argument on at least some of its claims, we are looking at an extended period before there will be a definitive verdict at The Hague. So far, China has at best only produced a position paper (Dec. 7, 2014), which directly questions the appropriateness of compulsory arbitration as well as the competence of adjudication bodies under the aegis of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to oversee the South China Sea disputes.
While the Philippines is waging the snail’s pace legal warfare, China is dramatically altering facts on the ground on a daily basis. By all means, the real struggle in the South China Sea is to protect your position on the ground, defending every inch of your territorial claim lest others will Darwin you out. For long, the Philippines foolishly neglected fortifying its position across the Spratly chain of islands and its 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). It is high time for the Philippines to learn from other claimant countries and optimally defend contested features under its control.