China's repeated rejection of Manila' s plea for arbitration in the dispute in the South China Sea is by no means defiance of the tribunal in The Hague. On the contrary, it shows China's respect for international law.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration this week asked China to submit evidence on its territorial claims in the South China Sea within six months for a procedural review of the suit filed by the Philippines.
The tribunal, set up under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), has no jurisdictional power over the territorial and maritime disputes in the region.
Though a UNCLOS signatory, in 2006 China filed a formal declaration that invoked the opt-out clause of Article 298 of the convention. That, according to the rules of convention, entitled China to reject arbitration in disputes concerning boundaries, historic titles, or military activity.
It is legally clear that the request by the Philippines does not fall within the tribunal's scope and Manila's request should be rejected. China will definitely not submit any evidence to the tribunal.
The Philippines obviously knew this when it referred the dispute to the arbitrator last year. Its claim is carefully framed to avoid the situations itemized in the opt-out clause.
For impartial observers, issues such as "rights to exploit waters in a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone" and "legal status of the islands" raised by the Philippines are de facto issues of boundary and maritime disputes and do not come under UNCLOS arbitration. China's legal entitlement under UNCLOS should be fully guaranteed.
It is fair to say that the arbitration request is more of a political farce than a legally meaningful act. The sole reason why the Philippines submitted the dispute to an irrelevant third party is that it wants to further complicate the situation and make its dispute more of an international issue.
When chaos and confusion reign, the United States finds much sought after opportunities to make a fuss and pile pressure on China.
What's more problematical is that the Philippine arbitration request seeks a declaration that the nine-dash line China bases its territorial sovereignty on is inconsistent with the UN maritime convention. The line, declared by the Chinese government in as early as 1947 and clearly marked in historical documents, obviously concerns a matter of sovereignty and is not governed by UNCLOS.
The correct way to ease the tension in the South China Sea has long been articulated since 2002 in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
China has no intention of taking part in the arbitration process, but prefers bilateral talks and resolving the dispute in a peaceful manner.