Filipinos, it seems, have a rather loose definition of “winning”. As I write this, there is jubilation in the Philippines over the “favourable” ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague on the matter of the disputed territories of the South China Sea. However, there is little indication that China will be in any mood to respect the PCA decision.
For one thing, China has, from the very start, asserted that it does not and will not recognise jurisdiction of the The Hague over this matter. Second, it has exhibited a wherewithal to invest heavily in the development of infrastructure and the colonisation of various islands in the disputed territory. And last and most important of all, a wealth of precedents have been set by other world powers ignoring any rulings by international bodies that are not in their favour.
Nonetheless, the PCA in its final decision ruled that the actions of China in the disputed territories of the South China Sea and its so-called “nine-dash line” are “contrary to the [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 10 December 1982] and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention”. However, the decision stopped short of favouring exclusive economic rights to any of the “maritime features” within the disputed zones specific to any one country among the claimants.
Then again, consider the behaviour of other countries that had found themselves in similar circumstances. Graham Allison writing for The Diplomat details the sorry record of the world’s mightiest nations when faced with rulings that their governments perceive to be not aligned with their nation’s sovereign interests. Allison cites how “none of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have ever accepted any international court’s ruling when (in their view) it infringed their sovereignty or national security interests.”
One of the examples he cites is quite confronting…
Anticipating the Court’s ruling in the case brought by the Philippines, UK Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed: “We want to encourage China to be part of that rules-based world. We want to encourage everyone to abide by these adjudications.” Perhaps he had forgotten that just last year the PCA ruled that the UK had violated the Law of the Sea by unilaterally establishing a Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Islands. The British government disregarded the ruling, and the Marine Protected Area remains in place today.
As for the United States, the “ally” the Philippines is counting on to back any next steps it might take following the PCA ruling, our pal lacks any ascendancy to take China to task on the applicable laws in this instance. This is because the US has, itself, declined to ratify the UNCLOS and, as such, is not bound by it. On that note, Allison writes, “If China followed that precedent, it could withdraw from the Law of the Sea Treaty altogether – joining the United States as one of the world’s only nations not party to the agreement.”
For that matter, no great world power has ever become great nor powerful by bowing down to any other power or acceding to any agreement unfavourable to its long-term interests. As such, China’s stance is consistent with historical precedent overall. The Philippines, for its part, would not have found itself in this position had its past governments exercised more foresight surrounding national defense. Instead, successive governments had allowed the Philippines’ once-respectable military capability to degenerate to what is now less than a pale shadow of its former self.
The Philippines, therefore, faces the potentially embarrassing prospect of having to answer the question: What’s Next? Unless Filipinos can answer that question with a firm slam-dunk, any notion of a “win” in this instance can only be token at best. Considering that the Philippines lacks any capability to enforce the PCA ruling, coming up with a response that saves face will be the next big challenge ahead.[Photo courtesy International Business Times.]
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