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The South China Sea Arbitration: the Republic of Philippines vs. the People's Republic of China

Reefs, Rocks, and the Rule of Law after the Arbitration in the South China Sea

By Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper and Harry Krejsa

Policy Brief, Center for a New American Security, April 14, 2016.

Introduction

This spring, the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea under the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague will issue a ruling in the case that has become known as Philippines v. China. The case, which was brought before the court in early 2013, will make headlines due to the significant spike in South China Sea tensions that has occurred since it began. It will also make history as perhaps the most ambitious and farthest-reaching case ever to have been heard pursuant to the Law of the Sea. The decision is likely to clarify several important issues at the heart of the South China Sea disputes as well as reduce the scope of the disputes. The tribunal will not, however, adjudicate questions of sovereignty – indeed, disputes over which country holds the title to which land features are likely to persist for years to come. Nonetheless, the case may set a new international precedent and impose reputational costs on China. The ruling may usher in a period of increased regional tensions in already hotly contested waters, but could also provide opportunities to defuse these longstanding maritime conflicts in the longer term.

Major milestones in the Philippines v. China case have been widely reported. The esoteric law that governs the proceedings and their nonpublic nature mean that the potential outcomes of the case and their political and legal implications are, however, not terribly well understood. The Tribunal’s award will be legally binding on the Philippines and China, but will also reverberate throughout the region and the world. This CNAS brief looks ahead to the Tribunal’s ruling, assesses the range of prospective decisions, and evaluates their broader implications.

Download the full report at http://www.cnas.org/sites/default/files/publications-pdf/CNASReport-AfterArbitration-FINAL.pdf [PDF]

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