'No problem' for Beijing if it ignores UN arbitration of Manila's territorial claim, experts say

Bad publicity seen as only drawback to not responding to Manila's territorial complaint

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 4:08am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 June, 2014, 8:49am

Maritime experts say Beijing is unlikely to face any consequences for refusing to respond to the Philippines' complaint to a United Nations arbitration tribunal over disputed waters in the South China Sea.

The only downside for China would be bad publicity.

"China's position that it will not accept or participate in the tribunal case involving the Philippines hasn't changed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing yesterday.

The UN Permanent Court of Arbitration said on Tuesday it was giving China until December 15 to respond to the Philippines' complaint. Manila asked the court to uphold its right to exploit waters within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Beijing is insisting the issue can only be solved via direct talks.

In January last year, the Philippines brought its case before the international tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) without China's consent.

The Philippines yesterday reiterated its call for China to join the arbitration to achieve a peaceful and durable solution.

"We continue to urge China to reconsider its decision not to participate in the proceedings," foreign affairs department spokesman Charles Jose said.

China-based maritime experts said Beijing should maintain its stance, since it didn't need to risk the consequences of allowing the international tribunal to give a verdict on the dispute.

"If China shifted its stance to take part in the tribunal, it would encourage Hanoi to seek UN arbitration over its territorial disputes with Beijing too," said Zhang Mingliang, a Southeast Asian affairs expert at Jinan University.

"Of course, China's international reputation will be affected if it refuses to respect the UNCLOS."

Professor Wang Hanling, a maritime expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China declared in 2006 that it would not accept the jurisdiction of UNCLOS.

Professor Fu Kuen-chen, a Taiwanese expert in maritime law, said a UNCLOS decision was not legally binding. "In fact, it's not only China, but also France, the United States and many other countries who have refused to accept UNCLOS," Fu said.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Reuters