A Case of Rocks Or Islands?


Examining the South China Sea Arbitration

The Philippines argued the merits of its case against China’s claims in the South China Sea before an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague from November 24 to 30. As it has since the case was filed in early 2013, China refused to recognize or take part in the proceedings. China’s official response to the recent hearing on merits, along with its earlier response to the tribunal’s ruling on jurisdiction and its December 2014 position paper on the matter, are included below.

A ruling on the merits of the case is now widely expected sometime in mid-2016. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the tribunal’s award will be final and legally binding despite China’s nonparticipation. For further insights on the importance of the arbitration, AMTI spoke to Jose Cuisia, Philippine ambassador to the United Stated, John Norton Moore, director of the Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the University of Virginia Law School, and Paul Reichler, partner at Foley Hoag LLP and the Philippines’ lead counsel in the case.

“If others were to do the same thing around the world, that China has done in the nine-dash line, it would be extremely harmful to the interests of China around the world.”

John Norton Moore
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“If China can get away with wholesale violations of this convention to which there are over 180 states party … then it really renders almost meaningless this convention which has been very very successful in regulating activities including exploitation of resources, navigation, even military activities.”

Paul Reichler
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“What we believe is at stake is the integrity and spirit of UNCLOS itself.”

Jose L. Cuisia, jr.
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Likely Outcomes of Arbitration


The Philippines’ case against China is complicated, and the tribunal could rule in any number of ways given the 15 separate claims being made by Manila. Below are the most likely or impactful rulings the judges might make, and how each would affect the size of the legal dispute in the South China Sea. Analysis articles by AMTI offer more detail on the complexities of the case, including Li Mingjiang on the likely results of a final ruling, Jay Batongbacal on the details of the case and the earlier decision on jurisdiction, and Gregory Poling on the dangers of Manila winning everything it wants.

[addtoany url="http://amti.csis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/AMTI_9DL_Spratleys.jpg" title="Philippines v. China: The Big Picture" ]

[addtoany url="http://amti.csis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/AMTI_Spratleys.jpg" title="Rocks, Islands, Or Neither?"]

[addtoany url="http://amti.csis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/AMTI_Disputed_1.jpg" title="What If China Wins?"]

[addtoany url="http://amti.csis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/AMTI_Disputed_Max_EEZs.jpg" title="What if Everything is Considered an Island?"]

[addtoany url="http://amti.csis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/AMTI_Disputed_2.jpg" title="An All Islands Compromise?"]

[addtoany url="http://amti.csis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/AMTI_Disputed_EEZs_NoRocks.jpg" title="What if Scarborough Shoal is Ruled A Rock?"]

[addtoany url="http://amti.csis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/AMTI_No_Rocks_Compromise.jpg" title="A "Some Islands" Compromise"]

[addtoany url="http://amti.csis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/AMTI_Disputed_Terr_Seas.jpg" title="What if None of the Features Are Islands?"]

[addtoany url="http://amti.csis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/AMTI_Disputed_Terr_Seas_Inset.jpg" title="Territorial Waters in the Spratly Islands"]

Wading In Deeper


Paul Reicher recently sat down with AMTI director Gregory Poling to discuss in greater detail why Manila is pursuing arbitration, the proceedings to-date, and what comes next. Listen to the full interview below.

Shen Lyu-shun, representative of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the United States, also sat down with Gregory Poling to discuss the recent visit of Interior Minister Chen Wei-zen to Itu Aba, or Taiping Island, Taiwan’s stance on the arbitration case, and Taipei’s South China Sea strategy.


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