South China Sea arbitration likely to stir more regional tensions: Italian expert

Source: Published: 2016/7/8 23:21:19

The forthcoming arbitration on the South China Sea dispute by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is likely to stir more tensions in the region, said an Italian expert.

"I reckon the judgement of the court will not help the dialogue between the two parties involved, China and the Philippines, but rather worsen the crisis," Domenico Losurdo, a famous Italian historical philosopher and professor at the University of Urbino, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"Bilateral negotiations would be instead the most effective path to solve the dispute," he added.

The two countries had already reached an agreement on settling their South China Sea disputes through bilateral negotiations in the mid-1990s, and again in the early 2000.

Yet, the Philippines unilaterally decided to bring the issue before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013, seeking arbitration over the case.

"By unilaterally filing the case against Beijing at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Philippines clearly contradicted its commitment to the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), which it had previously signed," the expert said.

The DOC expressed the desire to enhance favorable conditions for a peaceful and durable solution of differences and disputes through friendly negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned.

"That Agreement also appealed for the parties to exercise self-restraint, and avoid taking actions that could complicate or escalate the disputes," Losurdo stressed.

"The unilateral initiative by the Philippine has exactly resulted in such an escalation, the outcome of which is now difficult to forecast," added the expert.

Losurdo, a professor emeritus of Philosophy and former Dean of the Science of Education Faculty at the University of Urbino, said the Philippines' step made more sense in a broader, geopolitical perspective.

It was necessary to consider the U.S. strategic "pivot to Asia" or rebalancing launched by U.S. President Barack Obama's administration, which marked a shift in American foreign policy from the Middle East and Mediterranean area to the Asian Pacific region.

"It is within this context that the Philippines decided to drop negotiations (with China) in 2013, and resort to arbitration before the Permanent Court with the help of U.S. legal consultants," said Losurdo.

According to the expert, the whole issue would serve U.S. interests in terms of preserving its hegemony in the Asian Pacific region, confining China as a "land power" only, and making a U.S. naval blockade easier during a possible crisis.

China asserts the international tribunal has no authority over such a case, which is essentially about territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation, and made clear it will not accept the arbitration.

"This is also a widely shared view among international jurists. And the Permanent Court of Arbitration itself seems to indirectly confirm this line, by assessing the claim as a matter of interpretation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," Losurdo said.

"Yet, the dispute is indeed about the sovereignty of the South China Sea islands," the expert added.

Furthermore, China excluded maritime delimitation from compulsory arbitration in a declaration made in 2006, in accordance with Article 298 of UNCLOS concerning the optional exceptions to the applicability of the U.N. Convention.

As Chinese authorities recently called again on Manila to abandon the arbitration application and return to bilateral negotiations, Losurdo suggested a positive development might come with the newly elected president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.

"The new president seems more open to dialogue. Somehow, bilateral negotiations might still resurface as the main pathway to solve this dispute," he told Xinhua. 

Posted in: Diplomacy

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