Tribunal issues award on Philippines vs. China case concerning East Sea disputes

The tribunal constituted under Annex VII to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on July 12 issued a unanimous award in the arbitration instituted by the Philippines against China concerning disputes in the East Sea.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague

The tribunal concluded that China’s claims of “historic rights” to waters within the ‘nine-dash line’ were incompatible with UNCLOS, and that there was no legal basis for China to claim “historic rights” to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’.

According to the tribunal, none of the Spratly (Truong Sa) Islands claimed by China are capable of generating an exclusive economic zone. China has no entitlement to an exclusive economic zone within 200 nautical miles of Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal.

The tribunal also found that Itu Aba (Ba Binh) in the Spratly Islands is a “rock” and therefore is not entitled to an exclusive economic zone. The tribunal noted that China has caused permanent and irreparable damage to the coral reef ecosystem in the Spratly Islands.

The tribunal found that China interfered with Philippine traditional fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and that China’s actions have only served to further aggravate the dispute with the Philippines during dispute resolution proceedings.

On January 22, 2013, the Philippines submitted an application to the Permanent Court of Arbitration to seek ruling on China’s claims to “historic rights” within its so-called ‘nine-dash line’ under the UNCLOS.

* Following the award, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay Jr said the country welcomed the tribunal’s conclusion and called on those concerned to exercise “restraint and sobriety”.

He emphasised that the Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to the on-going efforts in addressing disputes in the East Sea.
* On July 12, answering reporters’ questions in regards to Vietnam’s response to the tribunal’s rulings, the Vietnamese foreign ministry’s spokesperson said “Vietnam welcomes the arbitration tribunal’s issuance of the final ruling on July 12 and will issue a statement on the ruling’s content”.

Vietnam once again reiterates its consistent stance on this lawsuit as it was fully shown in the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry’s Declaration on December 5, 2014, sent to the arbitration tribunal.
In that spirit, Vietnam strongly supports settling disputes in the East Sea via peaceful measures, including diplomatic and legal processes without the use or threat to use of force, as in line with regulations of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, maintaining peace and stability in the region, security, safety and freedom of navigation in and over flight over the East Sea, and respecting the law-abiding principle in seas and oceans.

On this occasion, Vietnam once again affirms its sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos, the sovereignty over internal waters and territorial waters, the sovereign right and jurisdiction over Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf as defined in line with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Vietnam defends all of its legitimate rights and interests regarding geographical structures belonging to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos.

* Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida issued a press release stating that the tribunal’s award is final and legally binding and the parties to this case are required to comply with the award. Japan has consistently advocated the importance of the rule of law and the use of peaceful means, not the use of force or coercion, in seeking settlement of maritime disputes.

* Following the rulings, the Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement, in which it stated that the tribunal’s award is “null and void and has no binding force”. China’s foreign ministry stated that its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests will not be affected by the tribunal’s award. The statement added that Beijing “will never accept any claim or action based on those awards.”

* Meanwhile the US Department of States issued a press statement saying that the tribunal’s decision is “an important contribution to disputes” in the East Sea. Department Spokesperson John Kirby expressed his “hope and expectation” that parties will comply with their obligations to the tribunal’s legally binding decision. Washington also urged all claimants to avoid provocative statements or actions. The US said that it was still studying the decision.

* European Council President Donald Tusk called on China to respect the international system. Speaking at the EU-China Summit in Beijing, Tusk asked China to protect the “rule-based international order”, considering it as the biggest challenge ahead. Tusk made the statement before the tribunal in The Hague issued its rulings on the Philippines vs. China case. Tusk emphasised that “the rule-based international order is in our common interest and both China and the EU have to protect it, as this is in our people’s best interest.”

* The Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement urging all parties to fully respect legal and diplomatic processes, exercise self-restraint and avoid conducting any activities that may raise tensions in the region.

A spokesperson said Singapore has taken note of the Award made by the Arbitral Tribunal convened under Annex VII to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The country supports the peaceful resolution of disputes among claimants in accordance with universally-recognised principles of international law, including UNCLOS, without resorting to the threat or use of force.

* Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on peace, stability and sustainable development in the East Sea. In the statement, Thailand attached great importance to maintaining peace and stability in Southeast Asia and adjacent areas, as well as restoring trust and confidence among countries in the region. Thailand believes that the ultimate goal for all that would benefit the peoples should be to render the East Sea a sea of peace, stability and sustainable development.

* On its website, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said it has noted the award of the tribunal and is studying it carefully.

* US Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senator Dan Sullivan released a joint statement welcoming the award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the case of the Philippines vs. China. The two senators encouraged claimants in the East Sea to seek a resolution of maritime disputes peacefully, consistent with international law, through arbitration as well as by negotiation.