The Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague is expected to make a final decision this year on the Philippines’ maritime dispute with China in the South China Sea.
Its decision will have a significant impact on China and its ties with other claimant states in the South China Sea. The case has been before the arbitration tribunal since January 2013, when the Philippines unilaterally initiated arbitration against China, with regard to the latter’s claims over much of South China Sea. The tribunal ruled at the end of last October that the case was “properly constituted” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This was a blow to China, which had maintained that it will not participate in the proceedings because the tribunal has no jurisdiction over issues to do with territorial sovereignty. China also argued that the Philippines abused the arbitration mechanism because it unilaterally initiated proceedings without exhausting diplomatic channels. It would appear that China’s steadfast policy of neither accepting nor participating in the arbitration has failed to prevent the arbitral tribunal’s ruling that it has jurisdiction over part of the issues submitted by the Philippines. On Nov 30, the arbitral tribunal concluded the hearing on the merits and remaining issues of jurisdiction and admissibility in the arbitration, with the final decision due possibly between March and June.