15 July 2016
The much anticipated award on the South China Sea(SCS) case filed by the Philippines against China was issued by the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague on Tuesday. While most observers had expected Manila to prevail, the tribunal’s rebuke of China still came as a surprise.
In particular, the ruling nullifies China’s claims to the waters in the SCS based on historical rights and demarcated by its controversial nine-dash line. It also threw down the gauntlet on Beijing’s behaviour in the SCS, including its island-building programme and the damage caused to the marine environment.
Passionate advocates of international law may hail the award as a significant step forward on the SCS disputes. However, reality will soon seep in after the initial euphoria dies down.
Beijing has repeatedly declared its intent to ignore the ruling, which it has characterised as “waste paper”. A possible positive outcome will be if the ruling propels subsequent bilateral talks. But regional peace and stability can slide down the path of greater uncertainty if an angry China decides to adopt an even more assertive stance in the SCS, such as continuing or even enhancing its fortification and militarisation works on occupied features.
Beyond the near-term rhetoric and actions that the respective parties might undertake, the ruling could also have other far-ranging ramifications. This arbitration case would have prompted Beijing to reconsider its longer-term strategic position, especially as it strives towards what it considers as its “rightful place” in the world.
… Angela Poh is a PhD candidate at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. Collin Koh is a Research Fellow at the Maritime Security Programme, RSIS.
GPO / IDSS / Online / Print
Last updated on 15/07/2016