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Commentary: South China Sea arbitration a scar on international legal system

2016-July-13       Source: Xinhuanet.com

Much like a poisoned tree, which will never bear good fruit, the award issued in the South China Sea arbitration was contaminated from the start.

A fishing fleet returns to Sanya Port in the southernmost province of Hainan, July 29, 2012, concluding its voyage of casting nets in the South China Sea. (Xinhua/Hou Jiansen)

Much like a poisoned tree, which will never bear good fruit, the award issued in the South China Sea arbitration was contaminated from the start.

A belligerent claimant, a biased arbitrator and an absence of rationality: Hardly fertile ground for impartiality.

The arbitration is the sum of its parts, and it was doomed from the beginning. Thus, rather than setting a precedent, the whole process has left an ugly scar on the international legal system.

The tribunal handling the South China Sea arbitration case unilaterally initiated by the former Philippine government issued its final award on Tuesday, amid a global chorus that the panel has no jurisdiction.

The five-member tribunal offered a summary of its decisions, which sweepingly side with the claims filed by the administration of former Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III.

China said it neither accepts nor recognizes the award.

The international justice and dispute settlement system should be a bastion of impartiality, rationality and fairness. On this occasion, however, it appears that politics and vested interests have chipped away at these foundations and undermined the legal forum itself.

The award, cloaked under the name of law, is a poor imitation of justice.

The unilaterally-initiated arbitration was an attempt by the Philippines to discredit China's territorial sovereignty, and its maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea. Unsurprisingly, the Philippines has kept quiet over its own illegal practices on some islands and reefs around China's Nansha Islands.

Moreover, interference from certain countries has only muddied the water further, exposing the arbitration case for what it is: Pure political provocation.

The United States, for example, is not a directly concerned party nor a signatory of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, nor a country that has acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Yet, this has not stopped it from being vocal about the issue.

The arbitral tribunal has failed to be objective, and seems to have forgotten the essence of UNCLOS and international law, which encourage respect, understanding and cooperation.

Consequently, the only precedent that has been set is that opportunistic claims will be encouraged, leaving negotiations by the wayside.

The pursuit of a peaceful, cooperative South China Sea region should be the common goal of everyone, regardless if they are directly involved or not.

To that end, it is imperative that the issue is brought back to the negotiation table, as peaceful settlement through dialogue and consultation are the only viable way to solve disputes.

Also, those who are not directly concerned should at least refrain from meddling in and escalating the tensions.

The award could never have solved the issue but at least it puts an end to this unfair arbitration process, allowing all concerned parties to restart negotiations.

China's commitment and resolve to seek solutions via peaceful talks and to work with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to encourage cooperation and uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea will never change.

Editor: Nan

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