Court to Rule on S. China Sea Claims in Mid-July

Chart courtesy PCA

By MarEx 2016-06-29 21:20:18

In a statement Wednesday, the Permanent Court of Arbitration said that on the morning of July 12, it will issue its ruling ("Award") on a case brought by the Philippines against China over territorial claims in the South China Sea. The ruling is widely expected to go in favor of the Philippines, and China is not expected to abide by the Court's findings. Beijing has suggested that it may even exit the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea in the event of an unfavorable outcome. 

The case, which was brought by the Philippines in 2013, has proceeded without China's participation, as China refuses to acknowledge its legitimacy. China has issued an informal "position paper" claiming that the court lacks jurisdiction and that the Philippines has already agreed to settle the dispute through bilateral negotiation. 

The Philippines' filing with the court asserts that "China’s maritime entitlements in the South China Sea . . . may not extend beyond those permitted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," and further that China's “'nine-dash line' [is] contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that [it] exceeds the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under UNCLOS." Specifically, the Philippines has asked the Court to rule that China's claims to land features in the Spratly chain do not entitle China to the right to corresponding territorial seas or exclusive economic zones, and that certain of these features – notably Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal – are within the Philippines' EEZ.  

China has invested heavily in the construction of artificial islands on these claims, and in the development of a quasi-military distant water fishing fleet and an enlarged Coast Guard to patrol them. 

In a finding last year responding to the informal paper and addressing jurisdictional questions, the panel found that the Philippines' claim did not concern maritime boundary delimitations, but rather the broader question of maritime territorial entitlements under UNCLOS. It emphasized that "in keeping with its findings on the nature of the Parties’ disputes . . . it would not rule on any question of sovereignty over land territory and would not delimit any maritime boundary" between the two states – restricting its findings solely to the question of whether China could extend its claims so far from its own shores. 

The U.S. has backed the Philippines in the territorial dispute, sending Navy vessels on freedom of navigation patrols near Chinese-occupied features and dispatching carrier strike groups to the region.