The Philippines’ legal challenge against China’s claims in the South China Sea is gathering pace, emerging as a “proxy battle” over Beijing’s territorial reach.
Manila has assembled a crack international legal team to fight its unprecedented arbitration case under the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea - ignoring growing pressure from Beijing to scrap the action.
Any result will be unenforceable, legal experts say, but will carry considerable moral and political weight.
The Philippines has invested a “huge amount of political capital in this legal gambit and it wants to ensure success regardless of the cost,” said security scholar Ian Storey of Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies.
“If the Philippine team submits a less than convincing case...this would be very embarrassing for Manila and put it right back to square one in its dispute with China. Beijing would also be emboldened to pursue its claims even more assertively than it has been doing over the past few years.”
Beyond the legal questions, the case carries political and diplomatic risks and is being closely watched by Japan and Vietnam, locked in their own disputes with China over sea territory, officials from both countries say.
The US, which is deepening military ties with the Philippines, a longstanding treaty ally, is also watching.
The legal battle mirrors tensions at sea, where China and the Philippines eye each other over rival occupations of the Scarborough and Second Thomas shoals.
Chinese vessels occupied Scarborough after a tense two-month standoff between rival vessels last year - a move some regional analysts have described as an effective annexation by Beijing.
- Reuters News