On July 12, 2016, an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued its ruling in Manila’s case against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. Convened under the compulsory dispute settlement provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the tribunal’s five arbitrators ruled overwhelmingly in the Philippines’ favor. Beijing refused to participate in the arbitration and rejected the outcome. Meanwhile, the newly-inaugurated president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, downplayed the victory in the hopes of coaxing China toward a more conciliatory policy and, as a result, international pressure on China to comply with the award has evaporated. The ruling clarified important aspects of UNCLOS and customary international law, but there was never much hope Beijing would accept its findings.
Nonetheless, many observers hoped that over time China might find politically face-saving ways to bring its claims and behavior into line with the substance of the ruling, even while rejecting the process. In the three years since the arbitral award, and since Manila’s adoption of a more accommodating policy toward Beijing, has China moved any closer to compliance? AMTI has compiled a list of actionable findings from the tribunal and assessed whether China’s recent actions are in-line with them. Overall, China is in compliance with just 2 of 11 parts of the ruling, while on another its position is too unclear to assess.
Arbitration Compliance Report Card
(Click each row for more information)
- China cannot claim historic or other rights within the “nine-dash line” beyond the territorial seas, EEZs, and continental shelves permitted by UNCLOS.
- Scarborough Shoal and high-tide features in the Spratlys generate territorial seas but not EEZs or continental shelves.
- Second Thomas Shoal and the waters around it are part of the EEZ and continental shelf of the Philippines.
- China illegally occupied Mischief Reef, which is part of the Philippine continental shelf.
- China illegally prevented the Philippines from exploiting the resources of its continental shelf.
- China violated the Philippines’ rights to fish within its EEZ.
- China failed to prevent its fishers from operating illegally in the Philippine EEZ.
- China illegally blocked traditional Filipino fishing at Scarborough Shoal.
- China allowed its fishers to illegally engage in environmentally destructive harvesting of endangered species.
- China illegally destroyed the marine environment through its island-building campaign.
- Chinese law enforcement vessels violated COLREGS by creating a risk of collision and danger to Philippine vessels.