Global Insider: Philippines-China Case May Test Limits of UNCLOS Arbitration

Global Insider: Philippines-China Case May Test Limits of UNCLOS Arbitration

The Philippines announced last month that it would seek international arbitration for its long-running dispute with China over territory in the South China Sea. In an email interview, John E. Noyes, a professor of international law and the law of the sea at California Western School of Law, explained the significance of the move and how international tribunals for maritime disputes generally operate.

WPR: What are the steps for seeking arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and what is the scope of the disputes that can be settled under it?

John Noyes: Under UNCLOS, which has been accepted by 165 parties, countries involved in a dispute must first try to resolve it informally. If negotiation fails, the disputing parties may have recourse to arbitration. To begin the arbitration, an applicant country prepares a legal claim, sends it to the respondent country along with a notice of arbitration and names one member of the five-member arbitral tribunal. The respondent then has 30 days to name a second member of the tribunal, and the two disputants have another 60 days to agree on the remaining three members. If the respondent fails to name an arbitrator, or if there is no agreement on other tribunal members, the tribunal will still be constituted, but in that case the president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) selects the remaining arbitrators.

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