Can international legal mechanisms defuse tensions among the West, Russia and China? Last week, U.S. and European officials praised their Chinese and Russian counterparts for helping seal the nuclear deal with Iran. Yet there were warning signs of new spats with Beijing and Moscow over the South China Sea and Ukraine.
These tensions concern not only the countries’ core national interests, but also their readiness to submit these interests to legal reviews. China and Russia seem determined to ensure that, as great powers, they cannot be contained through international law.
In The Hague, the low-profile but august Permanent Court of Arbitration wound up its initial hearings on a legal challenge by the Philippines to China’s claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea. Manila argues that, while Beijing appears intent on asserting its rights over the sea by force, the Philippines “can only counter by invoking international law.” China’s view is that the court has no jurisdiction over the issue, and the tribunal is likely to spend the rest of the year determining whether it has standing to intervene.