On July 12, the Hague international court ruled in the dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea. Internationally, the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) has been characterized as a sweeping rebuke of Chinese claims in the South China Sea. But in international relations, the impact is more ambiguous, which means greater uncertainty and possible volatility in the region.
China refused to participate in the arbitration because in Beijing’s view the tribunal had no jurisdiction over the case. Despite the focus of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the PCA is not a UN agency. Nor is its ruling enforceable. The US has strongly supported international arbitration and the rule of law. Yet, US record on international law is highly mixed; it has often acted unilaterally against international law, including through regime change, invasions and coups d’etat. Washington still has not ratified the UNCLOS, which in Beijing creates an impression that US wants China to abide by rules it rejects. Historically no permanent member of the UN Security Council has complied with a ruling by the PCA on an issue involving the Law of the Sea.
Currently, China and the Philippines have opted for a cooperative stance, which is predicated on Sino-Philippine dialogue that could reduce the weight of geopolitical issues, while supporting mutual gains in economic development. In the long-term, this is the most preferable trajectory to Manila, Beijing, Washington and ASEAN.
Despite significant pressures, Duterte is hedging his bets between US security assurances and Chinese economic cooperation, as evidenced by former President Fidel Ramos’s informal talks recently in China, which may result in a formal dialogue. Intensified bilateral cooperation could increase China’s participation in infrastructure investment and Chinese multinationals in economic zones; financing possibilities vis-à-vis the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; agreeing on “joint development areas” in South China Sea; possibly even joint potential in anti-corruption and anti-drug activities.
By Dan Steinbock @ The World Financial Review