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Phl lead counsel: China to lose influence if it defies tribunal's decision

FILE - In this Friday, April 17, 2015 file photo, protesters display placards during a rally at the Chinese Consulate at the financial district of Makati city, east of Manila, Philippines to protest moves by China in "fortifying" its claims at the disputed Spratlys Islands in the South China Sea. China’s campaign of island building in the South China Sea might soon quadruple the number of airstrips available to the People’s Liberation Army in the highly contested and strategically vital region. That could be bad news for other regional contenders, especially the U.S., the Philippines and Vietnam. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

MANILA, Philippines - China might lose its influence over smaller states if it will defy the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the arbitration case regarding the South China Sea dispute, according to the Philippines's lead counsel in the case.

Manila lead counsel Paul Reichler said in an interview with the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative that China is expected to "vent quite a bit" if the tribunal sides with the Philippines.

"By defying a judgment, particularly if it's a unanimous judgment, particularly if it's well-reasoned, if it's well-explained and if it is understood and supported by the international community... China will be branded... an international outlaw state," Reichler said.

Reichler added that this would cause a "loss of prestige" and loss of influence, particularly over Southeast Asian nations.

The international lawyer, however, noted that China's initial reaction might not be its final reaction.

"There is a strong possibility that China will look for a way to save face and accommodate itself of the judgment not only of the arbitral tribunal but the international community," the lawyer said.

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Reichler cited previous cases where losing parties refused to comply with decisions of international courts.

"There's no enforcement mechanism in any of these cases but states comply. The reason they do is that they have strong incentives for compliance among other things," Reichler said.

The lawyer cited the case of the United States (US) and Nicaragua during the 1980s where the administration of US President Ronald Reagan refused to comply with the decision of the international court.

In 1986, the International Court of Justice ordered the US to stop violating international law by supporting military and paramilitary activities against Nicaragua, Reichler said. The US Congress later on decided to comply with the court's decision.

Reichler also cited the Arctic Sunrise ship case between Russia and the Netherlands. In 2013, Russia seized Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, which was sailing in international waters in the Russian exclusive economic zone, and arrested the crew.

The Netherlands filed a case before the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea, which later on ordered Russia to release the crew and ship. Russia initially refused to accept the ruling but eventually released the crew and ship.

Reichler said that the Philippines, along with other ASEAN countries, might help China in finding a way to "save face" and bring itself back to the community of law-abiding nations that contribute to regional peace and stability.

The Philippines recently concluded its arguments before the United Nations (UN) arbitral tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands.

The UN tribunal is set to issue a ruling on the arbitration case between the Philippines and China by 2016.

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