Interview: Arbitration not conducive to South China Sea dispute settlement: German expert

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The decision of an arbitration court in The Hague on the disputes over the South China Sea would not make their settlement any easier, a German expert said in a recent interview with Xinhua.

The Philippines unilaterally initiated an arbitration case against China over maritime disputes in the South China Sea at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague in early 2013 under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The PCA said in press release on Wednesday that the arbitral tribunal handling the case will issue an award on July 12.

Stefan Talmon, director of the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn, said the arbitration court in The Hague, which was formed according to Annex VII of the UNCLOS, is not responsible for territorial disputes.

"Disputes over territorial sovereignty of islands are exempt from the jurisdiction of the UNCLOS's courts because territorial disputes do not belong to those disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the convention," Talmon explained.

He noted that issues of territorial sovereignty are not governed by the UNCLOS, but by customary international law.

Speaking of possible consequences of the arbitration court's decision, the expert said he did not believe it would make the settlement of disputes over the South China Sea any easier.

"I assume that the decision will even have a counterproductive impact on the resolution of the problems. There is a danger that the decision will be misused for political purposes and ultimately contributes to a hardening of positions on both sides," he added.

On Jan. 23, 2013, one day after the arbitration process began, the Philippines issued a document that clearly stated that the arbitration was about sovereignty.

Any signatory to the UNCLOS may declare its refusal to accept compulsory arbitration with respect to disputes concerning maritime delimitation, historic bays or titles, military and law enforcement activities, thus prohibiting other UNCLOS contracting states from initiating arbitration.

As China has declared that compulsory dispute settlement procedures do not apply to maritime delimitation, it is wrong for the Philippines to have gone for arbitration, said Xu Hong, Chinese Foreign Ministry's director general of treaties and law.

If disputing parties have agreed on other means of settlement, compulsory arbitration is not an option, said Xu.

According to Article IV of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), signed between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2002, all sides, including the Philippines, agreed to settle territorial disputes through negotiation and consultation by the countries directly concerned. Endi

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