VietNamNet Bridge – International experts said that the recent ruling released by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) has strongly changed debate on the issue of the East Sea, especially among Chinese scholars and officials.
China’s illegal runway on the Fiery Cross reef in Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly Islands). Photo: CSIS
The dispute resolution measures provided under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other legal frameworks should be considered an important measure (besides political and diplomatic measures) to solve territorial water disputes. More importantly, when a ruling is issued by the fair and reputable judges, it should be obeyed by state members. This is the view that was emphasized in both important events related to the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea) last week .
In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) was established under the petition of the Philippines government. It released a ruling consisting of 3 main groups of contents.
Firstly, the Court of Arbitration rejected the claim of historic rights and sovereignty claims of China’s 9-dash line.
Secondly, the Court of Arbitration declared that all the features in the Spratlys Islands have not reached the legal status of an “island”, meaning that no feature shall enjoy the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles.
Thirdly, the Court of Arbitration considered the actions of China not military operations and violating several provisions of the UNCLOS, exacerbating the tensions in the East Sea.
International experts said that the recent ruling released by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) has strongly changed debates on the issue of the East Sea, especially Chinese scholars and officials.
They no longer have the right to criticize other countries and claim China’s “indisputable sovereignty” in the waters within the “nine-dash line”. This line has been completely erased from the international map.
Regarding the legal field, MSc. Pham Ngoc Minh Trang, a lecturer of the Faculty of International Relations, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, HCM City, also referred to several cases in which a country did not participate in and did not comply with the Court’s ruling: Nicaragua’s case with the US, which was the party that refused to participate in (1986), and most recently the lawsuit between the Netherlands with Russia, in which Russia behaved like China today. However, Russia still adhered to the final judgment of the Court.
Conduct of the countries in the absence of compliance with the ruling (especially China) will create a very bad precedent for that country itself.
Because later on, if China wants to sue a country in the International Court, the defendant can possibly behave in the “Chinese style” and not attend the hearing, causing difficulty for China when it wants to be protected by international law – MSc. Minh Trang analyzed.
The East Sea cooperation after the lawsuit
Through the main conflicts related to oil exploration in the East Sea (2007 in the Hoang Sa – Paracels Islands, 2011 in Truong Sa – Spratly Islands and in 2012 at the South mouth of the Gulf of Tonkin), scholar Kathrin Reed, researcher at the Institute of Peace and Cooperation of Cambodia, insisted that the conflicts are only a part, and does not occupy a dominant role, making the East Sea dispute as the opinion of many researchers.
In other words, the East Sea conflict cannot be interpreted by any single factor of natural resources, trade and sovereignty … but by a comprehensive view. If only focusing on one element and ignoring other factors, leading to single methods of settlement, it will not help terminate the current instability in the East Sea.
This scholar said, focusing on the relationship of the Southeast Asian countries with China will mean both acknowledging and upholding the ruling of the PCA, and at the same time wanting to use it to fight with China.
Meanwhile, Southeast Asia needs to urgently work with the United States and other partners – including Japan, India and Australia – to convince Chinese leaders about the value of the stable relationship of China with the region.
Dr. Felix Heiduk, from the Institute for International and Security Policy Studies of Germany, commented on the security dilemma that is appearing in the East Sea and the increased uncertainty for all parties on all aspects of law, military, diplomacy and economics.
Fisheries, fishing management and maintenance of traditional fishing grounds have a very important role in the economy and food security of China but they have not been discussed much on the media.
Dr. Felix also stressed the central role of ASEAN in addressing and governing East Sea disputes, especially after the ruling of the Court of Arbitration on July 12th.
Reliable and smart solutions will be required by all parties to prevent local conflicts turning into large-scale armed conflicts as well as to prevent aggression from the claimants.
This solution has the broad support from the Southeast Asian countries in the presence of the US military in the East Sea, as well as the current support of this country and its allies to boost marine surveillance and defense capability of claimants like the Philippines.
During the discussion session, international scholars made different assessments of the impact on policies of the ruling of the Court of Arbitration which was established under Annex VII of UNCLOS.
Scholars said that the ruling of the Court of Arbitration actually had a positive impact on the regional situation, and whether the impact is not the same for all parties, it will create more opportunities for solving the East Sea conflicts in the direction of peace, stability and equitable development in the region.
 The seminar “Update on the East Sea 2016” held by the Center for International Studies (SCIS) and the Centre for Strategy and National Policy Studies (CSS), University of Social Sciences and Humanities, HCM City and international seminar “The legal issues related to the ruling of the Court of Arbitration established under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982” held by the HCM City University of Law in collaboration with the Association of Vietnam Lawyers.