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South China Sea Arbitration

The Chinese call it Nan Hai, the Malaysians call it Laut Cina Selatan, the Filipinos call it Dagat Kanlurang Pilipinas and the Vietnamese call it Biển Đông. Three years after the Philippines initiated proceedings against China under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the five judges on the Arbitral Tribunal finally rendered their long-anticipated judgement in a “unanimous Award” on 12 July 2016. In essence, the Philippines’ claims on the South China Sea (SCS) have been bolstered at the expense of China’s claims of historic rights behind the infamous nine-dash line. The award will have both immediate repercussions on the situation in the SCS, and long-term implications on regional security, the crucial Sino-US relations, and on the credibility and centrality of ASEAN as the premier promoter of regional stability, security, and prosperity. To consider the SCS matter settled as a result of this award of the Arbitral Tribunal is wishful thinking. China has spent the weeks before and days after 12 July 2016 to ramp up publicity of its firm stance to “not accept, not participate, and not recognise” the judgement of the Tribunal, which it still insisted was illegally constituted – at least in its own interpretation of UNCLOS. Even the Philippines – which saw the handover of power from Benigno Aquino III to President Rodrigo Duterte just 13 days before the verdict was delivered – is hoping to reach out to China, with the hope of improving bilateral relations.

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