What Countries are Taking Sides after the South China Sea Ruling?

by Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

On July 12, a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued its long-awaited ruling on Manila’s case against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. How many countries recognize the decision as legally binding on both parties and call for it to be respected will determine its ultimate value, as international pressure is the court’s only enforcement mechanism. In recent months, AMTI scoured publicly available, official statements in an effort to determine the real positions taken by countries toward the ruling. It is enlightening to compare the level of global support expressed since the July 12 ruling to the positions of countries in the months leading up to the verdict. A full list of official statements, both pre- and post-ruling, is available at the bottom of this feature.

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SHIFTING SANDS


In the first half of 2016, Beijing recognized that a ruling on the merits of the case was imminent and launched a diplomatic effort to convince governments around the world to voice support for its position that the arbitral tribunal was illegitimate and lacked jurisdiction in the case. On the eve of the ruling, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that more than 60 countriessupported this position, but had not provided a comprehensive list or, in most cases, evidence for this claim. Eventually, AMTI identified 31 countries that had publicly voiced support for Beijing’s position, along with 4 that had denied any such support and 26 that had remained publicly silent despite China’s claim of support or had issued statements that were considerably vaguer than indicated by China. In contrast, 40 countries had said that the arbitral award would be legally binding and had called on both China and the Philippines to respect it.

Before the Ruling…

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In the month since the ruling was issued, AMTI has identified 7 countries that have publicly called for the arbitral award to be respected, 33 that have issued generally positive statements noting the verdict but have stopped short of calling for the parties to abide by it, 9 that have made overly vague or neutral statements without addressing the ruling, and 6 that have publicly rejected it. A few differences are clear between the level of support pre- and post-ruling

After the Ruling…

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In the month since the ruling was issued, AMTI has identified 7 countries that have publicly called for the arbitral award to be respected, 33 that have issued generally positive statements noting the verdict but have stopped short of calling for the parties to abide by it, 9 that have made overly vague or neutral statements without addressing the ruling, and 6 that have publicly rejected it. A few differences are clear between the level of support pre- and post-ruling

After the Ruling…

The 28 members of the European Union, along with several non-members, voiced support for binding arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in a March joint statement about the South China Sea, but then failed to endorse the final ruling as legally binding in an otherwise positive statement following the award. These included Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, all of which signed onto a statement at the May G-7 meeting in Japan that had called on China to abide by the forthcoming ruling. One of the non-EU members that voluntarily signed onto the March statement—Montenegro—even reversed position following the July 12 award and sided with China in rejecting the ruling. Read more…

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