International Court to Deliver Ruling on South China Sea Case in 2016

The United Nations Arbitral Tribunal has finished hearing the second round of oral arguments surrounding the Philippines’ case against China’s territorial claim to virtually all of the South China Sea.

“The tribunal now enters its deliberations and intends to issue its award in 2016,” the international tribunal said in a press statement e-mailed Tuesday morning.

Both parties now have until Dec. 9 to submit corrections to the transcripts of the hearing. The Philippines has until Dec. 18 to submit responses to questions posed by the tribunal during the hearing as well as related materials. Meanwhile, China may comment on the hearing in writing by Jan. 1, 2016.

China has refused to participate in all arbitral proceedings. It also has publically stated it rejects the international court’s authority and it will refuse to acknowledge any ruling.

The Philippines filed the case in 2013 to challenge China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, a strategic and lucrative waterway through which more than $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes through each year.

The Philippines also seeks a court ruling that solidifies its right to exploit waters in its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The treaty defines such zones based on factors such as islands, reefs and rocks. Recently, China has raised regional tension by escalating its development of artificial islands in the region including one with an air strip. The Philippines hopes the court’s ruling could halt Beijing’s massive land-reclamation process.

Legal experts say Manila has a strong chance of winning the case based on the court’s rejection of China’s arguments during the hearing.

Several countries including Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague took jurisdiction over the case this year, and the hearing took place at its headquarters in the Peace Palace..

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