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Seminar on Southeast Asia’s Responses to the Arbitral Tribunal Award on the South China Sea

REGIONAL STRATEGIC & POLITICAL PROGRAMME SEMINAR
Southeast Asia's Responses to the Arbitral Tribunal Award on the South China Sea


ISEAS Senior Fellow, Dr Ian Storey, introducing the three speakers to the audience (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Tuesday, 23 August 2016 – ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute held a two-hour seminar on Southeast Asia’s Responses to the Arbitral Tribunal Award on the South China Sea. ISEAS Senior Fellow Dr. Ian Storey moderated the panel, and began the session by providing a brief overview of the main points of the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling which was released on 12 July 2016. The Tribunal ruled that China’s historic rights claim within the nine-dash line in the South China Sea is incompatible with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); that certain Chinese activities in the South China Sea had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ); and that China’s reclamation activities in the Spratlys had damaged the marine ecosystem and aggravated the dispute between Manila and Beijing.

Three speakers then went on to examine the responses to the Tribunal’s ruling from their respective countries: Mr. Richard Javad Heydarian from De Salle University in the Philippines; ISEAS Fellow Le Hong Hiep from Vietnam; and Mr. Evan Laksmana from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Indonesia.


Mr. Heydarian going into details about the significance of the 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident in the Philippines' decision to pursue legal action against China in 2011 (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr. Heydarian described the evolution of the Philippines’ foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, and the factors which have influenced changes in the country’s approach to China. He explained the importance of the 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident in the Philippines’ decision to pursue legal action against China in January 2013. He then went on to describe newly-elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s approach to the South China Sea dispute, and his hopes to engage China and improve bilateral relations with Beijing which have deteriorated over the past few years. Mr. Heydarian opined that the continuation of Mr. Duterte’s more accommodating posture towards China will be contingent on a positive response from Beijing, and future Chinese actions in the South China Sea.


Dr. Hiep sharing his thoughts about the ruling which could lead the Philippines to challenge certain Vietnamese sovereign and sovereign right claims in the South China Sea (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr. Hiep reviewed Vietnam’s interest in the case, and how it seeks to maximize its gains from the ruling and minimize its losses. Vietnam recognized that the Tribunal had jurisdiction over the case and welcomed its ruling. However, a promised longer statement on the award has yet to be issued. On the positive side, the ruling lends clarity to Vietnam’s dispute with China over the Paracel Islands, and provides a legal precedent for Hanoi. On the negative side, however, the ruling could lead the Philippines to challenge certain Vietnamese sovereign and sovereign rights claims in the South China Sea. Vietnam will closely monitor developments and keep its options open. 


Mr. Laksmana forecasting that under President Widodo, there was unlikely to be any major changes to the country's policy towards the South China Sea dispute (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr. Laksmana provided the foreign policy context for Indonesia’s reaction to the ruling. Although the nine-dash line overlaps with the Indonesian Natuna Islands’ EEZ, Jakarta has always seen itself as a non-claimant and honest broker in the dispute. Due to domestic political factors and personal dynamics within the administration of President Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s response to the ruling was mild and understated. Mr. Laksmana predicted that there was unlikely to be any major changes to the country’s policy towards the South China Sea dispute under President Widodo.


Participants at the seminar (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)