Asia and International Law

International Economic Law – China says US deliberately misread WTO rules in steel subsidy spat (Channel News Asia, 13 July 2016)

China's Commerce Ministry has said the United States had deliberately misinterpreted World Trade Organization (WTO) rules after the U.S. Commerce Department found in favour of subsidy rates for Chinese steel. The U.S. Commerce Department found in favour of anti-dumping measures for imports of stainless steel sheet and strip from China and said it had set a preliminary subsidy rate of 57.30 percent for a Chinese steel manufacturer, according to a preliminary finding released in mid-July. China's commerce ministry said in a statement it was not satisfied with the decision and that it would use the WTO dispute settlement process to defend its interests. Recently, the United States levied high taxes on Chinese stainless steel, cold rolled steel, corrosion-resistant steel plate and other goods that served as a "man-made obstacle" and an effective "rejection of Chinese steel products", the commerce ministry statement said.

Law of the Sea – Tribunal ruling a game changer (Straits Times, 14 July 2016)

The final award in the Philippines versus China arbitration was the most anticipated decision of any international court or tribunal in the area of the law of the sea since the entry into force of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1994. What the tribunal did not rule on is as significant as what it did. It doesn't say whose territorial claims are superior, or that China's nine-dash line claim is illegal per se, or that China's construction of artificial islands is in principle unlawful. The reasoning in this case is likely to have an impact on the development of a rules-based order for the oceans whether or not it is strictly complied with by the parties in the case. As an authoritative interpretation of UNCLOS by eminent law of the sea experts, the award will be studied by law students and government legal advisers for years to come.

See also:

Biased award in South China Sea arbitration has no binding force: expert (Xinhua, 19 July 2016)

South China Sea arbitration award won't hamper China-ASEAN cooperation: experts (Xinhua, 18 July 2016)

Why a ruling that cannot be enforced still matters (Straits Times, 16 July 2016)

Why the South China Sea Arbitration Case Matters (The Diplomat, 8 July 2016)

Law of the Sea – Testing the Rule of Law in the South China Sea (NYT, 12 July 2016)

How China reacts to the sweeping legal defeat over its claims to the South China Sea will tell the world a lot about its approach to international law, the use — measured or otherwise — of its enormous power, and its global ambitions. So far, the signs are troubling. Beijing has defiantly rejected an international arbitration court’s jurisdiction over a case brought by the Philippines and insisted it will not accept the path-breaking judgment of 12 July. The unanimous ruling, by a five-judge tribunal in The Hague, was more favorable toward the Philippines and broader in scope than experts had predicted. It said that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China had no legal basis to claim historic rights over most of the waterway, which is rich in resources and carries $5 trillion in annual trade.

There are serious concerns about what will happen next. The tribunal has no authority to enforce its ruling, and China, which boycotted the legal process, threatens to use force to protect the maritime interests the court has now declared illegal. What this means in practice is not clear. Given China’s stake in peaceful trade with the rest of the world, it would be foolish for President Xi Jinping to take provocative actions that could inflame regional tensions and conceivably lead to a military confrontation with its neighbors or the United States. Retaliatory measures — further island-building at Scarborough Shoal, for instance, or declaring an air defense zone over large portions of the South China Sea — would be risky.

Law of Development – As robotics advance in South-East Asia, investment needed to build skilled workforce – UN labour agency (UN News, 7 July 2016)

The study, ASEAN in transformation: How technology is changing jobs and enterprises, published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Bureau for Employers' Activities, examines the impact of technology on workplaces in the automotive and auto parts, electrical and electronics, textiles, clothing and footwear, business process outsourcing, and retail sectors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). “Countries that compete on low-wage labour need to reposition themselves,” Deborah France-Massin, Director for the Bureau said. “Price advantage is no longer enough. Policymakers need to create a more conducive environment that leads to greater human capital investment, research and development, and high-value production,” she explained. The study, based on two ASEAN-wide surveys of more than 4,000 enterprises and 2,700 students, and qualitative interviews with more than 330 stakeholders in region and beyond, found that there is considerable potential for growth and employment offered by advanced technologies, such as additive manufacturing, robotics and the 'Internet of Things,' a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data. The study warned that while mass scale job displacement is not imminent, about 56 per cent of all salaried employment in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam, is at high risk of displacement in the next couple of decades primarily because of declining costs and increasing accessibility of new technologies.

Law of Development – Meeting with Chinese Premier, Ban commends country’s leadership on UN 2030 Agenda (UN News, 8 July 2016)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, where he welcomed China's efforts towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as its support to other countries in their own implementation. “The Secretary-General welcomed China's early efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by aligning its five-year plan with the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs],” said a note issued by the Secretary-General’s spokesperson. Mr. Ban also noted the country’s leadership on South-South cooperation, calling it pivotal in advancing the Sustainable Development Agenda worldwide. During the meeting, the Secretary-General also expressed hope regarding China’s continued leadership and multilateral engagement in support of resolving regional and global challenges and said that he looked forward to welcoming the Premier at the 71st General Debate and High-Level session of the UN General Assembly in September.

Human Rights – Global community must not mar human rights in Myanmar by rushing to forge economic ties – UN (UN News, 4 July 2016)

“International actors must continue to prioritize human rights, particularly in business and investment relations,” said Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, at the end of a visit to Myanmar from 20 June to 1 July. These actors should neither remain silent when confronted with human rights concerns nor become complicit in perpetuating human rights abuses, she said. “Myanmar's young democracy can only advance if human rights are fully mainstreamed into its institutional, legal and policy framework,” the expert said. “Building a culture of respect for human rights must be a priority now and in the future.” Ms. Lee visited Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States, recommending that future political dialogues tackle the root causes of conflict and the long-standing grievances of ethnic communities. Additionally, she called for an end to the institutionalized discrimination against the Muslim communities in Rakhine State.

Environmental Law – UN Environment Assembly opens in Nairobi aiming to ensure ‘healthy planet, with healthy people’ (UN News 23 May 2016)

Hundreds of key global decision-makers are gathering in Kenya for the second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2), aiming to tackle some of the most critical issues facing our planet, from the air pollution that kills millions of people every year to an illegal trade in wildlife that is pushing species to the brink of extinction. Held at the headquarters of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, UNEA is the world’s most powerful decision-making body on the environment. This year, leaders will seek to pass a raft of resolutions, including those on food waste, the fading health of oceans, the world’s natural capital, and sustainable consumption and production. Addressing the opening session, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner noted that since the first UNEA held in 2014, “the environment has shifted from the margins of attention to the centre of global decision making.” “It now runs through the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreementon climate change, establishing UNEA as the ‘World Parliament for the Environment,’ he said, stressing that UNEA is the only platform outside of the UN General Assembly to have universal representation.

International Economic Law – India, Afghanistan and Iran Sign Deal for Transport Corridor (WSJ, 23 May 2016)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed an agreement with Tehran on 23 May for a transport corridor designed to open up a new route to Afghanistan via the Iranian port of Chabahar, circumventing Pakistan. Chabahar port, which India will partially develop just across the border from Pakistan’s, is the centerpiece of the corridor. India and Iran also signed an agreement in Tehran that allows New Delhi to begin work on Chabahar after a delay of more than a decade. Mr. Modi said the deal could “alter the course of history of this region” and help India, Afghanistan and Iran “to eventually build what we all desire and deserve—a friendly and healthy neighbourhood.”

International Economic Law – ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit: Russia eyes economic expansion in SE Asia (Asia Times, 23 May 2016)

Russia moved to forge stronger ties with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) mid-May, pledging to focus on economy rather than geopolitical alliances. Local observers preferred to highlight geopolitical aspects of the rapprochement between Russia and Southeast Asia. Russian media outlets, including Sputnik International, noted that Russia looked to the East, seeking new allies among US partners in Asia. However, ASEAN top officials remained reluctant to concede that the Sochi summit had a geopolitical dimension. Lao leader Thongloun Sisoulith told a press briefing after the meeting that no western pressure was applied to discourage ASEAN leaders from attending the meeting.

See also:

Law of Development – Partnerships, fresh policy ideas needed to ensure ‘no one is left behind,’ UN Asia-Pacific forum told (UN News, 17 May 2016)

Strong political commitment, action and well-functioning coordination mechanisms, fully supported by the countries of Asia and the Pacific, will be critical to ensure that “no one is left behind,” were spotlighted at the opening of the2016 session of the main United Nations policy forum in the region. The 72nd session is being held under the theme ‘Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for Sustainable Development,’ and places particular emphasis on harnessing STI towards achieving the 2030 Agenda in Asia-Pacific.

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