‘An overwhelming victory’ is how Paul Reichler, lead counsel of the Philippines, describes the Award issued by Permanent Court of Arbitration Tribunal in the case of Philippines v. China concerning the South China Sea (SCS).  The Tribunal unanimously granted all but a handful of Manila’s claims, and in doing so laid down a significant number of rulings that will reshape the discourse over the SCS disputes in the years to come.

First and foremost, the Tribunal definitively characterised and then struck down the most expansive of all the various claims to the SCS: China’s historic rights claims, as represented by the ‘nine-dash line’ map. The Tribunal held that clearly, any and all historic rights claims to waters beyond the territorial sea were relinquished and abandoned by China when it signed and ratified UNCLOS and thereby agreed with the establishment of the EEZ and continental shelf regimes in favour of all coastal states.

The South China Sea arbitration award is not just a victory for the Philippines over China; it is a victory for evidence over sentiment. I have spent the past five years digging through the competing versions of the region’s history. In the process, I have learned that China’s claims in the South China Sea were always more emotional than historical. They emerged from the sense of national violation during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and mixed misunderstandings about history with poor translations of foreign maps and an unbending sense of self-righteousness.

The problem for the region is that, despite the arbitration ruling, those misunderstandings and emotions will not easily go away. Far from it: Chinese schools are continuing to inculcate young minds with the same muddled views of the past, and the national media is reinforcing the message for adults. To those Chinese who care about the issue, the arbitration will appear as yet another episode in the story of national humiliation. If we could trust the Chinese leadership to allow the free flow of information and an open debate about history, we could hope for a new understanding to emerge. For the time being, that is about as likely as China dismantling its giant artificial islands.

This week the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) will deliver its award in the Philippines’ case against China over maritime disputes in the South China Sea. In a bid to thwart Beijing’s attempt to turn the South China Sea into its own virtual lake, Manila contends that China’s claim to exclusive sovereignty over all the islands and shoals within the nine-dashed line – which encompasses 86 percent of the Sea – has no basis in international law. There is not much suspense about what the tribunal will decide: it will almost certainly side with the Philippines. The United States and its allies have already started criticizing China for signaling in advance that it will ignore the court’s ruling, which one Chinese official derided last week as  “nothing more than a piece of paper.”

duterteuschina

©Rappler: http://goo.gl/uVc6ZZ

A Toxic Relationship. Philippines-China relations have been rocky under the Aquino government. Aquino brought the dispute to the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration, strengthened ties with the United States through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and refused to hold bilateral talks related to the maritime dispute. Such actions have of course embarrassed and antagonized China, turning Philippines-China relations into its current toxic state.