A year after South China Sea ruling – threat to status
A year has passed since the arbitration court in The Hague made a verdict on the South China Sea issue.
The ruling completely denied the legality of China’s sovereignty claims and interests in the area. China rejected the ruling and is proceeding with “changing the status quo by force”. The Yomiuri Shimbun spoke to Japanese and Philippine experts on how they view the current situation. The following are excerpts from the interviews.Shigeki Sakamoto, Doshisha University professorThe current situation regarding the South China Sea is as expected.
As there is no mechanism to enforce the arbitration court’s decision under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, there has not been any change since the ruling was made regarding China’s controlling of reefs in the South China Sea. China said the ruling is invalid and has been in bilateral negotiations with the Philippines. The two countries shelved the ruling following a meeting between the Chinese and Philippine leaders last October. China clearly aims to render the ruling little more than a name. However, while Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to shelve it for the time being, he has not abandoned the court ruling itself. He is apparently supporting the shelving of the ruling to obtain China’s economic assistance.
The court ruled that the nine-dash line (see below), which China insists on applying in the South China Sea, violates the Convention on the Law of the Sea and is thus invalid. To make the South China Sea a “sea of China”, China is trying to pursue maritime interests and militarise the region. The judgement, which clearly denied the nine-dash line on which China’s claims are based, is of great significance. The ruling said the rock reefs that China reclaimed to turn into artificial islands are low-tide elevations without territorial waters, or rocks with no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, as referred to in Paragraph 3 of Article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. None of the reefs controlled by China have an EEZ, and the surrounding area is international waters. In high seas, all countries have freedom of navigation and fishing. No matter how much the two countries negotiate, it does not change the effect of the judgement by third-party countries. We must not forget that the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on “the principles and guidelines for international negotiations” states “the purpose and object of all negotiations must be fully compatible with the principles and norms of international law”. We should pay attention to whether the negotiations between China and the Philippines are being conducted in accordance with the resolution so that they do not enter an agreement that violates the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Not complying with the arbitration court’s judgement is nothing less than denying the rule of law in the international community. China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is required to respect the judgement as a major and responsible country.