20 July 2016
The recent Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) verdict in favour of the Philippines’ case against China’s claims in the South China Sea will have significant implications for Beijing, the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), and territorial disputes in the strategic waterway.
The ruling will also have a profound impact on a Code of Conduct that Asean is negotiating with China.
Observers have argued that Beijing’s rejection of the tribunal ruling is consistent with preceding examples of how great powers tend to ignore international law and tribunal rulings if these go against their sovereignty and national interests.
For example, in 1986, when the International Court of Justice ruled against the United States for violating Nicaragua’s sovereignty, the US rejected the ruling. Indeed, the notion of “might is right” dominates the foreign policy strategy of great powers.
Although Beijing has rejected the tribunal ruling, it does not mean that China has little regard for international law and norms. Beijing has sought to observe international law in other areas, such as the regulations stipulated by the World Trade Organization.
At the same time, China is a signatory to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). As such, Beijing should have accepted the verdict of the arbitration, given that the PCA has legitimate jurisdiction over the Philippines’ case and the tribunal ruling is a legally authoritative interpretation of Unclos.
By dismissing the arbitration, China’s image as a great power that respects international norms will be damaged to some extent.
… David Han is a research analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.
IDSS / Online / Print
Last updated on 20/07/2016