South Chinese Sea Conflict

The paper aims at discussing the reasons as to why China rejected to resolve the China–Philippines dispute over the South China Sea issue. There is a discussion on the background information of the conflict and the ruling of the arbitration case filed by the Philippines as well as the conflicting interests of China and Philippines. The paper clearly outlines the sincerity wish of China to resolve the dispute through peaceful negotiations without involving the international arbitration Tribunal. The research highlights the reasons behind China’s decision to pull out of Arbitration even before the final ruling by the Tribunal.

The reasons include: China being a sovereign state has a right to choose the method to use in dispute resolution, China’s wish for a south china sea of peace, friendship and cooperation, China and Philippines had signed several agreements to indicate their commitment to using peaceful negotiations among other reasons.


There is a historical dispute over the ocean to the south of China involving the maritime and island; the dispute involves several sovereign states like Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, China and Vietnam. A considerable proportion of the world trade materials use the south coast sea, for this reason, most non-claimant nations may wish that the South China Sea remains international waters and some countries assigned the responsibility of performing freedom of navigation activities. The disputed areas include banks, reefs, islands such as the Spratly and Paracel islands. The claiming nations have a hidden agenda to acquire or retain ownership of fishing zones and exploit minerals found in the water. The states may also wish to have control and power over vital shipping lanes. In 2006 a UN tribunal on legal matters regulating the Sea ruled for the Philippines, but the Chinese state acts in contrary to the decision and fails to recognize the court. Instead, it insists on negotiating with the Philippines and other concerned parties (Taffer). This paper will look into the reasons as to why China is against arbitration but rather considers bilateral negotiations.

Some of the regions causing conflict between the two countries include; the northern Borneo Maritime boundary, territory north of natural islands, Pedra Branca border, and the Chinese Southern Sea Islands. A Hague-based tribunal ruled for the Philippines and reaffirmed that China lacks the legality to claim traditional rights on the southern territory of the Sea. The court made a conclusion denying China any rights over the nine-dash line extending a hundred miles to the sea and covers the largest portion of the disputed waters. The decision may have long lasting consequences to China over the resource-rich region. The tribunal findings showed that China’s activities along the region such as interfering with oil exploration violated the sovereignty of the Philippines.

The China President rejects the ruling by the Arbitration Court saying “China will never accept claims or actions based on the decision.” The China’s ambassador to the USA accused the tribunal of professional incompetence and questionable integrity (Zhao & Zhang). However, the ruling was expected to raise conflict between the two countries; America urged the involved nations to avoid making any provocative statements and China was expected to commit to no militarization. The government of China stated that it was ready to amicably solve the issues peacefully through negotiations with the Philippines while respecting traditional facts. Through bilateral talks, China was willing to make any effort to join short-term arrangements with the states concerned including joint maritime developments to achieve positive results and uphold harmony in the southern border. The enforcement of any matter on the south sea will depend on Philippines ‘ assertion against China considering the court verdict in Hague.

The Tribunal further stated that China lacked the backing of the law to conduct economic activities around the sea and blamed it for harming the coral reefs along its constructed artificial structures and failure to safeguard and preserve the ecosystem. Some Chinese fishers had endangered the lives of giant clams and sea turtles with the awareness of the China government. The Tribunal further found that the sea features provided by China didn’t prove the capability of producing an economic zone for the country to deserve maritime rights on sea resources like fish, gas, and oil. Otherwise, the features are only rocks and low-level tides like reefs and not islands as they had claimed. American government which is a non-claimant nation has on several occasions differed with the Chinese nation in a bid to control the navigation freedom activities of the sea.

Sovereignty Factor

The position of China as an independent and sovereign state gives it the mandate to decide on a preferred method to solve disputes with other nations. This right is a legitimate part of the international law, and no nation has the power to violate the right without proper deliberations and consent from the China government (Chan & Li). China was against the Philippines decision to forward the dispute between them to the international court without reaching an agreement with China on the suitable process of conflict resolution. China was against international involvement in the debate even before The Hague-based Arbitration Court ruling. Otherwise, they preferred negotiation with Philippine after which they could involve the other nations in case they failed to reach a consensus agreement over the issue of disagreement which in this case is the ownership of some parts of the south china sea which were of interest to the two countries.

The Philippine decision to use international arbitration as a dispute resolution method without considering the interests of China emerged as intrinsically not consistent and illegitimate as abuse to dispute settlement procedures for a country. China found the conflict issues not so massive to require the attention of the whole world as they could peacefully solve the issues among themselves through other procedures like negotiations. The dispute involved many nations that had expressed interest in the southern region of China. Bilateral negotiations among the states would have solved the issues more conveniently without the need to involve non-partisan states. The Philippine case demonstrated a lot of distortions on the real concepts behind the disagreements with China. The international court has the responsibility of safeguarding all the freedom and rights enclosed in the international law without ant any favor

Challenge of Jurisdiction

Philippine case to the International Arbitration Court concerned the dispute on sovereign ownership of reefs and islands in the south China coast and maritime control. However, boundary issues are not within the mandate of the UN umbrella on maritime laws and therefore, they could not intervene in the conflict involving China and Philippine. In 2006, China had declared the exemption compulsory arbitration of “dispute concerning maritime delimitation” under Article 298 of UNCLOS (Mohd Nizam). The international ruling on the case involving boundary issues was against the above amendment of the UNCLOS. The unilateral initiation decision by Philippine was against the preconditions of UNCLOS over such matters. China argued that their decision to step out of the arbitration process initiated by the Philippines followed regulations of the international laws and regulations of bodies such as UNCLOS.

The principle of “no arbitration without the existence of a dispute” asserts that before initiating a compulsory arbitration, there should have been a reasonable and real disagreement between the parties. According to Chinese authorities, no controversy existed between them and the Philippines, since China had not presented ownership of any island but rather treated the islands under conflict as a portion of the Zhongsha. There was no dispute between China and Philippines on who controlled the islands, which would warrant the move taken by Philippine state coercing China to participate in compulsory arbitration by the international court. The principle regulation is that unless countries are involved in evident disputes which would probably disrupt the security, political or economic stability of a state, they should consider other dispute resolution procedures instead of compulsory arbitration. The Philippines should have opted for other processes and not arbitration.

UNCLOS also places a condition that the Philippines should deliberate the matters concerning the arbitration process with China. However, the Philippines never held consultations with China on the major issues involving the arbitration process as a preferred dispute resolution procedure. Philippine was not honest when it reported to the international tribunal court of an impasse with China about bilateral exchanges between the two countries and several major exchanges that followed. China denied this report and insisted that it had tried to engage the Philippines in a meaningful discussion to no avail (Divino Games). The Tribunal ruling would base on the reports given to them by the Philippine government on the dispute with China. Some of the reports were false which would lead to a wrong judgment against China. China would suffer from biased ruling and as a result, choose to sabotage the arbitration process.

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The Philippine state unilateral decision to use compulsory arbitration with China in looking for a solution to the boundary issues did not meet the UNCLOS conditions as expected. Other than Philippine deciding on the resolution process without involving the Chinese government, the Philippines had violated an agreement they had reached with China. The two sovereign states had expressed their readiness and commitment to settle their disputes through consultations and bilateral deliberations. The move by the Philippine government demonstrated that they were not willing and lacked the commitment to solve their territorial disputes amicably through peaceful negotiations. The Philippines did not respect the regulations of the international body mandated to resolve issues involving the sea and hence there was no enough reason for the UN convention to force China to abide by the arbitration ruling. Also because of its isolation in the decision making of solving the issues through arbitration, the decision to acknowledge and follow the decision was at China’s disposal.

According to the UNCLOS conditions, the tribunal has the powers to decide whether it has jurisdiction or not, provision of this application is not clear (Mincai, 2014).The international law has nothing like absolute power. Authority and powers of the tribunal by the states are under the regulation of an international mechanism under the UNCLOS for dispute settlement. China together with other international communities may find it hard to implement and recognize the tribunal’s decision if it abuses the powers given to the tribunal. In the China, Philippine case the tribunal acted in recklessness and arbitrary fashion. The actions of the tribunal were against the fundamental guidelines of the universal justice system and destabilized the international community’s faith in the organizations tasked with regulating the sea laws. China felt that the tribunal did not follow the international guidelines for obtaining information and hence in their final decision on the matter.

Lack of Investigation

The Arbitration Tribunal failed in its responsibility to understand fully and investigate deeply on the real cause of dispute between China and Philippines. It did not consider the purpose and fundamental nature of the claims filed by the Philippines. Instead, the tribunal intentionally regarded the issue as a matter of interpretation and application in line with the UNCLOS regulations. The truth is, the reports and submissions handled by the tribunal are far beyond the real concepts and domain of the border issues involving two nations. China was unhappy because the dispute bench made no efforts to determine the exact geographical structure of the border that was causing conflict. The tribunal failed to establish independent findings concerning both countries, to get a clear image of the ongoing dispute and instead relied only on the reports provided by the Philippines.

China is a member of the UNCLOS and therefore subscribes to the organization’s spirit and principles. Close to sixty nations who are state parties to the UNCLOS supported the stand and decision of China to solve the differences through deliberations and negotiations with Philippine (Bautist). Compulsory arbitration is not the biggest problem behind China’s decision not to implement and recognize the tribunal ruling; rather it’s the abuse of power by the court in making judgment on the matter. Before commencing the case, the court should have ensured that Philippine meet all the conditions involving arbitration as guided by the UNCLOS. However, this was not the case, and China did not participate in the investigation and even lacked the opportunity to submit its report on the matter. Philippine had not met the UNCLOS conditions to engage China in discussions before seeking arbitration in an international court.

The position of China in the arbitration process was in agreement with the state practice in international relations and also the elemental spirit of international law. Negotiation is the most often used dispute resolution process used by the countries which are directly involved in the disagreement. The consultations and deliberations work only under a single condition that there is an agreement between the countries whether bilateral or multilateral negotiations. The Philippines were expected to embrace the spirit of negotiation with China and then resolve to compulsory arbitration in case the consultations failed to yield any positive result. To facilitate peaceful co-existence with each other neighboring countries should consider solving their issues by consultations, however delicate and maybe involve a mediator who does not take either side. Legal procedures should be the last resort to dispute resolutions since the conflict at hand is between neighboring nations that need each other for various reasons.

The arbitration through the International Tribunal may not give considerable solutions to the conflict between China and Philippines over the sovereignty of their claims on the South China Sea. The process will only intensify tension, undermining peace and security stability in the region. The coastal countries have to go back to negotiation ways of solving disputes if they intend to avoid intensifying tension between neighboring countries. Countries in the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations (ASEAN) together with China decided to deal with the issue of boundary ownership using a dual-track approach which means resolving disputes through peaceful negotiations (Zimmermann & Baumler). The association is trying to include the Philippines state into the peaceful negotiations to give a solution for these countries. There is visible progress over consultations and deliberations to settle the matter and hence the international community should support the momentum of these discussions.

China remains dedicated to promoting justice for all and is against forcing any state to subscribe to its policies. The issue has a bearing on peace, stability, and justice and hence requires a solid strategy that allows room for deliberations. The International community should back China and efforts made by other nations in managing and solving the border conflict in a peaceful manner. The community should also respect China’s decision to use negotiations as a process to end conflicts. Countries in the ASEAN should work together and cooperate in building rules-based support. The International countries should support China’s decision to safeguard the legitimacy of fairness of international mechanisms more so UNCLOS. China demonstrated respect for the international bodies to which it was a state-party by ensuring that it did not violate the set conditions and regulation. Countries in the international community support of, negotiation process as a means to peacefully solve disputes without rushing to other legal procedures so first.

The Philippines Sabotaged its Relations with China by Pushing for Arbitration

Submission of conflict reports for international arbitration should have enhanced the process of reaching an agreement between the disputing countries. The Philippines failed to notify the Chinese leave alone seeking the China consent before initiating the arbitration process. China made its stand very clear that it was not in support of arbitration immediately after its initiation by the Philippines. The Philippines disregarded China’s position and went ahead with the process. The decision and actions of the Philippine government on the issue will damage their bilateral relations with China and other countries who would prefer alternative resolution methods. The move by the Philippines was disturbing and hard to understand for the Chinese and other ASEAN countries who felt a grave concern for the results of that decision. China pulled out of the arbitration dispute resolving process because Philippines did not respect their position to solve the issues through negotiations before taking the matter to court (Chong). The Philippine should have given consultations a chance after which, in case they did not reach a consensus then the matter would need court deliberations.

China Preferred Bilateral Negotiations

China displaced Japan and controlled Nansha islands for an elongated period. During all this time the Philippines backed China’s move not until in 1970 when the discovery of oil reserves occurred in the waters that surround Nansha Islands. The Philippines made claims of ownership and even initiated a military attack on the Chinese republic. China made political representations with the Philippines to demand that the Philippines cease to infringe China’s dominion and influence. China was acting in the best interest of the china-Philippines relations, peace, and stability in the ASEAN region as seen from its consistency in handling the issues. China adheres to solve the dispute through peaceful negotiations; the two countries would exchange views on any difference since 1970 (Emmers). The Chinese leader once gave an idea of a joint development approach to resolving disputes which were well received by the Philippine leadership.

The two countries at some point carried out a maritime cooperation that was highly applauded and welcomed by the international community. China has continued to make efforts towards peaceful relations with the Philippines including a proposal to have a regular consultation on maritime issues to which the Philippines are yet to respond to other recommendations. China still finds it hard to comprehend why unilaterally decide to keep off from negotiations and consultations. Forcing the arbitration on China will not be a solution to the China-Philippine dispute and won’t change China’s stand on its participation in the conflict resolution process. The Chinese government hopes the Philippines will realize the consequences of their decision and embrace peaceful consultations. The Chinese authorities have demonstrated their dedication to solving disputes using bilateral negotiations through the numerous friendly proposals forwarded to the Philippine government. When questions arise for China to explain its rejection to allow arbitration to settle their dispute with the Philippines, they have evidence to show their commitment to peaceful negotiations.

The Position of China

The core aim of China is to have maritime rights so that it can control reefs and islands in the sea. The causes of these conflicts were the invasion of the islands by coastline countries. China’s neighboring diplomacy guidelines is to build good relations that bring harmony, prosperity and security with other nations. As part of the ASEAN countries, China has always been on the forefront to campaign for peace, stability, cooperation and development. China would not wish to observe any disturbance in its boundaries, including the sea to the south that holds the ambitions and welfare of all the parties, even ASEAN countries. China has always welcomed dialogue with its partners including the Philippines whenever disputes emerge. Thus, they have maintained their unswerving position, which is in agreement with the consensus reached by China and other ASEAN countries.

In 2013, China attended a conference convened by ASEAN countries. They declared the conduct that members were to follow to avoid unnecessary disputes (Zhao & Zhang, 2016). All the countries represented gave their views on how to implement the declaration and maritime cooperation enhancement. Another meeting took place in Singapore where China and other ASEA countries observed progress in the process of consultation. The Philippines side acted in contrast to these meetings demonstrated by its constant provocations. China reflects its greatest benevolence and honesty in its continuous commitment to South China Sea peace and stability maintenance. From such meetings where the Philippines were part of, they acted in disagreement with the treaties they had signed on the best dispute resolution procedures, and that contributed to China’s rejection to follow the Philippines direction of using arbitration. It is important for states to consider deliberations with the neighboring countries on disagreement to find a better solution.

The Agreement between China and Philippines

In early 1980s China proposed an approach of shelving the disputes and joint developments towards the Philippines, a sign of China’s commitment and sincerity to UN obligations of sustainable peace (Taffer). The decision gave China a widespread approval from the international community; however, the Philippines gave no positive reply and did not take the proposal seriously. There was a precise harmony on dispute resolution procedures between China and Philippines countries. Evidence exists in the Joint Statement-PRC-RP consultations on the south sea and other areas that a steady and continuous cooperation process will be adopted to negotiate the settlement of bilateral disputes ultimately. The directly involved countries were to settle the conflict. The positive statement involving China and Philippines in 2000 articulated that the duo “resolved to use bilateral friendly consultations and negotiations to promote a peaceful settlement of disputes in agreement with universally recognized principles of international law” (Taffer). Leaders from the two nations promised to solve their differences via dialogue in September 2011 peacefully (Taffer).

China and Philippines were among the ASEAN countries which signed a document declaring proper behavior of Parties bearing membership of the South China Sea. Section 4 was categorical that the members involved would take up the responsibility to solve their border and jurisdiction disputes peacefully without threatening or using force. China and the Philippines exchanged ideas on some differences and made considerable progress. In 2004 Philippines and Chinese major energy corporations partnered to reduce existing tension between the two sides. Their respective governing authorities endorsed the plan, an indication that their differences were narrowing (Chan & Li). The Chinese government made an official proposal to the Philippines to constitute a conventional mechanism for maritime issues consultation, a proposal that China is yet to receive its feedback. When the Philippine aggravated the Huangyan Island incident, China had to take measures towards safeguarding their sovereignty.

Before exploring other means of peaceful bilateral dispute resolution, the Philippines withdrew from the consultations, claiming that they had exhausted all the available harmonious avenues and that arbitration was the only open door left to solve the disputes. China had just reinstated the proposal for a Philippines-China discussion forum to restore trust when the Philippines turned to arbitration. China was against arbitration as it felt that the Philippines had given the ASEAN countries a slap of betrayal on the face, by opting for arbitration after all the previous agreements they had signed to guide peaceful dispute resolutions. All peaceful means to solve the China-Philippines dispute had not been exhausted. The Philippines authorities should have considered taking more time to look for other resolution procedures without the issuance of threats or use of force against each other.

Huangyan Island Factor

The Huangyan Island is within the territorial boundaries of China. The Philippines government on several occasions has confirmed that the island is outside their territory. Numerous international agreements were clear that the island exists beyond the Philippines territory and jurisdiction. The National Mapping and Resources Authority confirmed that the Philippines authority has no evidence to prove ownership of the island since it is missing from the Philippine official map (Mohd Nizam). China is therefore mandated to enforce laws that govern its territories which apply even to the Huangyan Island. China is known to operate on its principle of “not to attack unless attacked” and they never bully or provoke other countries. Therefore it is absurd for states to create border disputes in the modern era as it would illustrate there are no laws in the world (Mohd Nizam). China requests Philippine to vacate Huangyan Island in harmony to guarantee peace and serenity of the Huangyan Island waters.

Wavering Commitment to Peace and Cooperation from Both sides in Regards to the Conflict

Over time China has demonstrated its commitment to implement the DOC in collaboration with other parties involved so as to maintain safety and political stability in the region and to peacefully settle related disputes with the directly concerned parties through negotiations and consultations. China has also upheld the proposal of “shelving disputes and seeking joint development” and has given more suggestions that would provide measures that facilitate maritime cooperation. Given promotion of cooperation of ASEAN countries in the areas of environment, maritime connectivity, combating transnational crimes, marine science, and technology among others, the Chinese government set up the China- ASEAN maritime cooperation fund. In 2013 China and other ASEAN countries announced an initiative to set up an emergency rescue hotline for maritime related issues (Mohd Nizam). ASEAN countries maintain close communication to deliberate on the best procedure to follow in solving the South China Sea issue.

The cooperation between these countries on the issue has demonstrated positive progress through consultations and mutually beneficial cooperation on maritime issues. If all the ASEAN parties including the Philippines, willingly participate and implement relevant agreements, commit to discussions and negotiations in promoting practical maritime cooperation and joint developments, the South China Sea region will be full of friendship, cooperation, and peace. Considering the involvement of China in agreements and signing of treaties for peaceful dispute resolution negotiations, it is clear that it has good intentions for a friendly co-existence with its ASEAN neighboring countries. The Philippines should have considered the South China Sea peace and stability before opting for the arbitration process. Countries battling in court over territorial disputes are not likely to have good bilateral relations; this is against China’s wish to the region hence its stern rejection to adhere or abide by the tribunal ruling on the China-Philippine South China Sea dispute.

Ren’ai Reef Factor

A Navy ship belonging to Philippine unlawfully beached off the Ren’ai of Nansha Island, China pretending to be stranded, in response, the Chinese authorities have made several representations to the Philippines nation urging them to pull the ship away. The Philippine asserts that they are yet to remove the Navy vessel for lack of superior spare parts. The Philippines reaffirmed that they had no intentions to build any artificial structures on the reef and its actions were not subject to provocation. After China making several visits to the Philippine state, the later said that as a DOC signatory, it was not ready to violate any of the rights. They had not built anything on the Ren’ai reef and that they were no threats to any Chinese. The Philippines are yet to pull away from the vessel and to worsen the situation they have kept taking action to set up structures on the reef without the knowledge of China using the presence of the stranded vessel as a cover up.

The Chinese got to know about the Philippines activities during a routine tour of the waters of Nansha Island, and China would not accept that. A statement by the Philippine department of foreign affairs confirmed that the ship beached nearly 15 years ago with the aim of occupying the reef a clear sign that they were not honest with China (Divino Gamas). Though in the 15 years leadership has exchanged hands the sitting president has an obligation to honor the country’s promise. Denying its commitment publicly makes the country lose trustworthiness from the international community. Philippine has been using the issue to gain sympathy and even included it in the report to the international arbitration tribunal with the aim of convincing the court to authorize its occupation of Ren’ai reef. However, China remains committed to securing its territories and maritime rights.


China and Philippines are neighboring countries and it is just normal for neighbors to have disagreements at times. What matters is the ability to solve them effectively ensuring a peaceful co-existence. China has a commitment to resolving the dispute through bilateral negotiations. Both judicial systems and conventional practices agree that negotiations between the directly concerned countries were the most productive since ordinary and preferential procedures to resolve such disputes failed. The negotiations may be slow but the decisions made are acceptable by both parties hence the most convenient and long-lasting process. International arbitration is a process of resolving global disputes, however, more often than not the differences are left unsolved and do not offer answers to all cases.

The scenario explains better the reason for China’s rejection to involve itself in the arbitration process and preferring to have negotiations and consultations with the Philippines. Resolving maritime disputes between sovereign states through roundtable discussions is crucial. It provides the forum for all parties to air their grievances and hence to make the final decision binding. Besides, it helps unnecessary military wars and hence guarantees peace and sustainable development. Both China and the Philippines should soften their stands and find an amicable solution to their disputes.

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