Date: 11 Jul 2016, Politics and Current Affairs
Question setter: Mettletest Panel

Philippines v. China Sea claim

Will the International Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague rule in the Philippines' favour on any of its current (2013) submissions “with respect to the dispute with China over the maritime jurisdiction of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea. / the South China Sea ". The Tribunal will issue its Award on Tuesday, 12 July 2016.


Answer: Yes
Confidence level: 87%
Mean confidence level (all requests): 55.33%

China lays claim to 90% of the South China Sea with their "Nine-Dotted Line" demarcation. Territorial and fishing rights are disputed and the Philippines have asked for rulings from an international tribunal to curtail China. The statements and behaviour of the various interested parties suggest that everyone thinks that the Philippines will win some of their submissions in the Hague. Discussions within NATO and between the US and the EU have been surrounded by expert advice on how the ruling might be enforced if China loses. The Chinese have refused to acknowledge jurisdiction and have said the ruling will be worthless; not the talk of one expecting to win - "The arbitration cannot resolve the disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea; instead it will only undermine peace and stability in the region". The PLA Navy has been carrying out heavy drills in the lead up, in a show of strength. All this could be a severe test of the Chinese respect for international law which they agree to uphold as a member of UNCLOS. Count on China losing and some very tense stand-offs to follow in the coming months.

Outcome: Yes
Score: 87
Mean score (all respondents): 48.67

Expert opinion:

Answer: Yes

Selected Expert Answer from Mettletest Panel:
It is generally expected that the PCA will rule in favour of the Philippines by granting very small maritime zones round the geographical features that are disputed. China itself seems to be preparing to lose in the Hague and has refused to take part in proceedings, weakening any slim chance it had of persuading the tribunal to see thing its way. China's position is that the Hague cannot arbitrate on a matter of sovereignty. China has stated in advance that the ruling is worthless and undermines the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China must hope that the reaction from Manila will be muted and that Vietnam and other challengers will do little. (Philippines new president Duterte is being urged to make an early visit to China.) Meanwhile a confident US is demanding the ruling be respected and groups of protesters are planning demos outside the Chinese consulate in Makati City today to press Beijing to comply with the verdict. It could be difficult for China to simply ignore the findings and wait for the furore to die down. The consequences could be serious and the world seems unready to face them., as China's Navy conducts drills and its neighbours seek to roll back its territorial ambitions.

Answer: Yes

Selected Expert Answer from Mettletest Panellist:
The tribunal was awarded jurisdiction over seven of 14 submissions made by the Philippines. These include seemingly arcane questions as to whether shoals are rocks and and which features are mere "low tide elevations". The answers are, of course, important because of the different maritime entitlements and economic zones which accompany the designations. China has been posturing heavily ahead of the result and carrying out naval exercises in the region. Their concern is that a pro-Philippine ruling will encourage other countries like Vietnam with their claims and increase tensions with the US, all of whom object to China's "nine dash line" sovereignty claim over 90% of the South China Sea. Two main factors point to Philippines' success with the tribunal: The PCA's decision that tribunal can rule on the case and the Chinese insistence that the ruling is "no more than a piece of paper". If China thought they were going to win they would be happy to endorse the ruling as evidence of their respect for international law and their membership of UNCLOS. As Sir Jeremy Greenstock's Gatehouse team puts it: "China is already gearing for a negative ruling, and they tend to be very accurate in their read. Expect a flaky ruling against China but with little on next steps for Philippines!"

Outcome: Yes

Comment on outcome from Mettletest Panellist:
The Hague tribunal overwhelmingly backed the Philippines over the disputed waters of the South China Sea, ruling that rocky outcrops claimed by China - some of which are only low tide elevations – cannot be used for territorial claims. The tribunal even said some of the waters were “within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China”. The tribunal also found China had violated the Philippines’ rights by interfering with its fishing and petroleum exploration and by constructing artificial islands. Damage to coral reefs by Chinese construction was condemned. The Chinese Government have reacted angrily, refusing to accept the decision and declaring their right to set up an air defence zone. An official stated "We hope that other countries will not take this opportunity to threaten China and work with China to protect the peace and stability of the South China Sea, and not let it become the origin of a war.” There could be tense moments to come, even if the rhetoric is mainly for domestic consumption.