THE NATIONAL INTEREST — The Arbitral Tribunal in the Philippines-China case will likely release its much-awaited judgment in the next few weeks. For the Philippines—a veritable David to China’s Goliath in terms of economic, political and military might—a favorable decision serves as the best form of “lawfare” and will be an international legal validation of its main submissions, which are solidly anchored in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provisions and general principles of international law. Unfortunately, victory in this case will likely not lead to closure for a country that has pinned so much hope on its outcome. The obvious problem is that China has refused to participate in the arbitral process, and has even gone so far as to denounce the whole thing as “illegal.” Even though the tribunal has neatly disposed of China’s arguments pertaining to jurisdiction, it continues to insist that the dispute must be exclusively settled via bilateral negotiations. Perhaps to prove its point, China has in the meantime been doing its absolute best to reshape the status quo in a way that makes its possible loss in the arbitration virtually irrelevant and beside the point.
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