Philippines v. China

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The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China
Permanent Court of Arbitration - Cour permanente d'arbitrage.svg
Court Permanent Court of Arbitration
Full case name Arbitration between the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China
Court membership
Judges sitting

Ghana Thomas A. Mensah

France Jean-Pierre Cot
Germany Rüdiger Wolfrum
Netherlands Alfred H. Soons
Poland Stanislaw Pawlak

Philippines v. China is a pending arbitration case concerning the legality of China's so-called "nine-dotted line" claim over the South China Sea under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).


The dispute originated after Japan renounced all claims to the Spratly Islands but did not leave a successor when it ratified the Treaty of San Francisco, which left the islands open for occupation by virtue of terra nullius.[1]

Manila bases its claim on its geographical proximity to the Spratly Islands.[2] In 1956, the dispute escalated after Filipino national Tomas Cloma and his followers settled on the islands and declared the territory as "Freedomland", now known as Kalayaan, in favor of occupation by the Philippines.[3]

Beijing claims it is entitled to the Paracel and Spratly Islands because they were seen as integral parts of the Ming dynasty.[2] China and the Taiwan have these same territorial claims.[2] Taiwan took control of the largest island.[3]

Vietnam states that the islands have belonged to it since the 17th century, using historical documents of ownership as evidence.[2] Hanoi began to occupy the westernmost islands during this period.[2]

In the early 1970s, Malaysia joined the dispute by claiming the islands nearest to them.[4]

Brunei also extended its exclusive economic zone, claiming Louisa Reef.[4]

Main claimants[edit]

Maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Philippine stance[edit]

The Philippines is contending that the so-called "nine-dotted line" claim by China is invalid because it violates the UNCLOS agreements about exclusive economic zones and territorial seas.[5] It says that because most of the features in the South China Sea, such as most of the Spratly Islands, cannot sustain life, they cannot be given their own continental shelf as defined in the convention.[6]

Chinese stance[edit]

China refuses to participate in the arbitration, claiming that the Philippines had "no legal grounds" on the filing of the case and accused the island nation of violating the non-legally binding 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, made by ASEAN and China.[7][8] Its refusal will not prevent the Court from proceeding with the case.[9]

Vietnamese stance[edit]

On December 11, 2014, Vietnam filed an intervention to the case which states three statements: Vietnam supports the filing of this case by the Phlippines; it rejects China's so-called "nine-dashed line"; and it asks the Court to take note of Vietnam's claims on certain islands such as the Paracels.[10]

Other claims[edit]

In May 2009, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Vietnam alone, filed claims to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea with regard to the islands. This was in relation to extending their claimed continental shelves and Exclusive Economic Zones. The People's Republic of China rejected the claims since those violate the "nine-dotted line". The Philippines challenged them, stating that the claims overlap with the North Borneo dispute. Indonesia made a comment on China's claim by saying that the features are rocks and cannot sustain life, effectively calling its claim invalid. The Philippines echoed Indonesia's claims, further stating that the islands belong to them through geographic proximity. China and Vietnam rejected the Philippines' claim.[11][12]

Brunei sent its own claim through a preliminary submission.[13]

United States position[edit]

The United States has stated that it does not take sides on the dispute. However, on Dexember 7, 2014, the State Department released a report that rejects China's claims as contrary to the Law of the Sea.[14]

Specific disputes[edit]

Summary of disputes
Area of dispute
The nine-dash line area
Vietnamese coast
Sea area north of Borneo
South China Sea islands
Sea area north of the Natuna Islands
Sea area west of Palawan and Luzon
Sabah area
Luzon Strait
Pedra Branca area

The disputes involve both maritime boundaries and islands. There are several disputes, each of which involved a different collection of countries:

  1. The nine-dash line area claimed by China which covers most of the South China sea and overlaps Exclusive Economic Zone claims of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  2. Maritime boundary along the Vietnamese coast between Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  3. Maritime boundary north of Borneo between Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  4. Islands in the South China Sea, including the Paracels Islands, the Pratas Islands, Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands between Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  5. Maritime boundary in the waters north of the Natuna Islands between Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.[15]
  6. Maritime boundary off the coast of Palawan and Luzon between the Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
  7. Maritime boundary, land territory, and the islands of Sabah (formerly North Borneo), including Ambalat and Labuan, between Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
  8. Maritime boundary and islands in the Luzon Strait between the China, the Philippines, and Taiwan.
  9. Maritime boundary of Pedra Branca and associated islands between Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore.


  1. ^ "Treaty of Peace with Japan". Taiwan Documents Project. 2013. Retrieved November 19, 2013.  See also: United Nations Treaty Series 1952 (reg. no. 1832), vol. 136, pp. 45–164.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Q&A: South China Sea dispute". BBC News. May 15, 2013. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Spratly Islands Conflicting Claims". Global Security. 2013. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Valencia, Mark J.; Van Dyke, Jon M.; Ludwig, Noel A. (1999). Sharing the Resources of the South China Sea. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 36–38. ISBN 9780824818814. 
  5. ^ "The Republic of the Philippines v. The People's Republic of China". Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  6. ^ Del Cappar, Michaela (April 25, 2013). "ITLOS completes five-man tribunal that will hear PHL case vs. China". GMA News One. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  7. ^ Torode, Greg (2013-09-27). "Philippines South China Sea legal case against China gathers pace". Reuters. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  8. ^ "China rejects arbitration on disputed islands in S.China Sea CCTV News - CNTV English". Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  9. ^ Peterson, Luke Eric (August 28, 2013). "Philippines-China UNCLOS arbitration moving forward without Chinese participation". Kluwer Arbitration Blog. Retrieved October 24, 2013. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Submissions to the Commission: Joint submission by Malaysia and the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam". United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. May 3, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  12. ^ "CLCS submissions and claims in the South China Sea, by Robert C. Beckman & Tara Davenport". August 11, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Brunei Darussalam's Preliminary Submission concerning the Outer Limits of its Continental Shelf". United Nations. Retrieved November 19, 2013. 
  14. ^ "LIMITS IN THE SEAS No. 143 CHINA MARITIME CLAIMS IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA". State Department. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  15. ^ Natuna Islands