The Multilateralist

South China Sea dispute headed to court?

South China Sea dispute headed to court?

The foreign affairs minister of the Philippines made a potentially significant announcement today:

This afternoon, the Philippines has taken the step of bringing China before an Arbitral Tribunal under Article 287 and Annex VII of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in order to achieve a peaceful and durable solution to the dispute over the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

At around one o’clock this afternoon, the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines H.E. Ma Keqing was summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs and was handed a Note Verbale by Assistant Secretary Teresa Lazaro. The Note Verbale contains the Notification and Statement of Claim that challenges before the Arbitral Tribunal the validity of China’s nine-dash line claim to almost the entire South China Sea (SCS) including the WPS and to desist from unlawful activities that violate the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines under the 1982 UNCLOS.

The Chinese government responded by insisting that the dispute must be resolved by negotiation, not international adjudication:

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing reiterated Tuesday China’s principled position that China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and its adjacent waters, after the Philippines announced it had taken the disputes to the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal.

"The Chinese side strongly holds the disputes on South China Sea (SCS) should be settled by parties concerned through negotiations," Ma said in a meeting with Assistant Secretary of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Theresa Lasaro. The latter submitted the Note Verbale that the Philippines will initiate arbitral proceedings of the South China Sea issue, according to the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

Manila’s move toward litigation comes just as Japan has made a conciliatory move in the maritime dispute.