Case of the Day: Philippines v. China

Hugo Grotius John Selden

An arbitral tribunal constituted under Annex VII to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea issued its long-awaited Award in the case the Philippines brought against China arising out of China’s claims in the South China Sea. I’m not a specialist in this area and so I’m not going to offer any detailed comment—you probably want to look to Julian Ku or others for that. Most experts predicted this was an easy win for the Philippines, and that’s how it turned out. The key point, it seems to me, was the tribunal’s decision that China’s maritime entitlements are defined by the Convention, and that even if China had some kind of “historic rights” (the nature and justification of which have never been made clear), they were extinguished when China acceded to the Convention. You can’t own the sea. There was more. Because some features claimed by China did not create exclusive economic zones, areas of the sea around those features were, according to the tribunal, within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and China had wrongfully interfered with the Philippines’ activity within its EEZ. Some features claimed by China were low-tide elevations that did not even give rise to a twelve-mile territorial sea.

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