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Phl lead counsel: International pressure may push China to comply with sea ruling

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, foreground right, escorted by Commander of the Chinese Navy, Adm. Wu Shengli, walks past a member of an honor guard whose hat fall off during a welcome ceremony at the Chinese Navy Headquarters in Beijing, Monday, July 18, 2016. AP/Ng Han Guan, Pool

MANILA, Philippines — Beijing will eventually comply with the ruling of an arbitral tribunal over its nine-dash line claim due to international pressure, the Philippines' lead counsel said.

Paul Reichler, the Philippines' lead counsel in its arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, said that China has always defended its actions on the basis of international law.

The arbitral tribunal concluded that China violated its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea when it constructed artificial islands in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

The Hague-based tribunal also ruled that China's nine-dash line claim over the disputed waters does not have legal basis.

"As the arbitral tribunal found, their legal arguments are indefensible...  [China] cares enough to try to defend what it has done on the basis of international law. In this case, there are particular reasons why I believe that the award eventually, not immediately, but eventually will be complied with or substantially complied with," Reichler said in a podcast published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Reichler noted that majority of states comply with the award of judgment of international courts and arbitral tribunals even if they are unhappy with the decision as failure to do so results in reputational damage.

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Even though arbitral tribunals do not have course power, states usually comply with decisions as defiance would result in loss of prestige and influence with other nations.

"A state that doesn't care for or respect international law has a very, very heavy price to pay and it's not just public relations, (it) translates into your ability to influence other members of the international community," Reichler said.

He explained that every state has a strong interest in its existence and the strengthening of an international rules-based order.

"Why? Because without one, there's chaos. Without one, there's no predictability. Without one there's, permanent insecurity, instability and a greater threat than there is now of armed conflict," the country's lead counsel said.

China has attempted to justify its conduct in legal terms as it cares about how the international community sees them, Reichler said.

The Philippines' lead counsel noted that the arbitral tribunal's award is also a victory for Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and other states who also have overlapping maritime claims with China.

"What they have won is a declaration, an understanding, absolute clarity that the nine-dash line is unlawful. It's unlawful as applied to the Philippines. It has to be unlawful as applied against Vietnam," Reichler said.

The arbitral tribunal confirmed that each claimant state is entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf off of their coasts, which is contrary to China's claim to at least 85 percent of their EEZs.

China has the physical power to enforce its claims against its neighbors in Southeast Asia but it may result to permanent hostility.

"The consequences of that will be permanent hostility with all of its neighbors, an inherently unstable situation which makes exploitation of the resources possible and certainly very risky," Reichler said.

As an alternative, China should negotiate with its neighbors on the basis of equality where the legitimate rights and interests of all states are recognized and respected, the lawyer said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has offered to open negotiations with the Philippines to resolve the sea dispute outside the arbitral ruling but Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. has refused to do so.

"I told him it was not consistent with our Constitution and our national interests so but there is certainly every avenue that we should pursue in trying to engage ourselves in the peaceful resolution of this dispute," Yasay said in an interview with ANC's Headstart.

Yasay added that Wang warned of a possible confrontation if the Philippines will insist on the arbitral tribunal's ruling.

READ: Philippines rejects talks not based on arbitral ruling; China warns of confrontation

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