11 Dec Why the Philippines’ Arbitration Against China is Doomed to Fail
Over at The National Interest, I have an essay considering the strategic implications of the Philippines arbitration claim against China. I argue that the Philippines made a mistake by trying to force China into an arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and that their “lawfare” strategy is probably going to backfire.
Due in part to domestic pressures for a robust nationalism in defense of all territorial claims, China has not yet reached the point where arbitration seems like a reasonable way to settle its maritime disputes. And since it has now spent months denouncing the Philippines arbitration as illegal and illegitimate in its domestic press and internationally, it will be even harder to accept any form of international dispute resolution in the future.
This is why the Philippines’ effort to force China to accept arbitration now is doomed to fail and will probably backfire. The Philippines will be in no stronger position vis-à-vis China than it was before the arbitration, even if it wins an award. Meanwhile, the overall credibility and effectiveness of the UNCLOS dispute resolution system will be called into question. And the U.S. goal of a China that “abides by and reinforces” international law and norms will be even farther off.