Over 20,000 people have signed an open letter contesting the award on the South China Sea (SCS) arbitration case by an ad hoc tribunal here on Tuesday.
The 2,500-word letter, drafted by a group of young Chinese scholars who currently study international law in the Netherlands, slams the controversial case unilaterally initiated by the Philippines for its lack of legality, noting that the arbitral decision violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Shortly after the tribunal issued the award, the scholars sent the letter to the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea under the United Nations (UN) Office of Legal Affairs, and required the institution to forward it to all parties of the UNCLOS.
Copies of the letter were also sent to international judicial and arbitral organs, such as the International Criminal Court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, as well as major law schools across the world.
The letter has been posted online and circulated on social media platforms, inviting people to participate and show solidarity against the ungrounded ruling. It has collected over 20,000 signatures in less than two hours.
Many law schools have voiced support for the letter and retweeted it on their official social media accounts.
The letter criticizes the tribunal for ignoring the nature of the SCS disputes, and ruling on a case that it has no jurisdiction over.
"The real disputes in the arbitration are those regarding territory and maritime delimitation," it says. "With respect to the jurisdiction, the UNCLOS does not address territorial disputes, and delimitation disputes have been excluded from compulsory procedures by China's declaration under Article 298."
Therefore, the case demonstrates how the legal process is abused by one party to the dispute, and how the arbitral organ acts beyond its power, according to the letter.
"By obscuring the real disputes and bypassing the limits to compulsory procedures, the Philippines does abuse the legal process, the tribunal does exceed the state consent and act ultra vires (acts beyond one's legal power or authority)," the letter says. "According to Article 296 (of the UNCLOS), the awards on jurisdiction and on merits will have no binding force whatsoever."
In conclusion, the letter requests international judicial and arbitral organs to act strictly within their mandate under international law, calls on all parties to the UNCLOS to join China in the efforts to combat abuse of legal process, and invites scholars, students and lawyers to further study the UNCLOS disputes settlement mechanism so as to contribute to a peaceful settlement of SCS disputes.
Among 8,000-more Chinese students studying in the Netherlands, over 100 are in faculties of law across the country. Those specializing in international law and the Law of the Sea set up a research group for the drafting of the open letter.
"We cannot believe that such a bizarre case was able to keep advancing in The Hague, capital of international law," said Peng Qinxuan, 29, PhD candidate of international law at Utrecht University and active member of the group.
"In this case, the arbitrators failed to see the wood for the trees. But we scholars of international law have the duty to present the truth," she said.
Peng and her peers spent three months drafting the letter in English and translating it into Chinese and Dutch.
"In my six years of life in the Netherlands, I have noticed that the Western media coverage on China is full of bias and there is no exception when it comes to the arbitration," said Wang Zhili, a candidate for master degree from the Ultrecht University who also participated in circulating the open letter.
"In-depth articles with a neutral stance over the issue are really hard to find. That's why we decided to post the letter online," Wang added.