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UN Court To Make Decision On South China Sea Dispute

If you pay attention to Southeast Asia, then you are no doubt aware of the troublesome situation that has been playing out in the South China Sea. Disputes between China and several other countries in the region (Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, to name just a few) over ownership of certain parts of the Sea have created a lot of drama.

Why is the South China Sea so important? The South China Sea holds reserves of undersea oil and natural gas, as well as ample fisheries and important commercial shipping lanes that connect to half the world. This mixture of natural resources and pivotal trade routes make ownership of the South China Sea’s realty incredibly attractive–hence the litany of squabbles between its neighbors.

In any event, it appears that there may be some sort of official decision on the matter coming this summer. In May or June, a UN arbitration court will rule on the maritime dispute between China and the Philippines.

The five members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, after seven hearings on the matter, will determine whether or not China’s claim to what amounts to most of the South China Sea goes against UN conventions.

While it is generally agreed that UN intervention is a good thing, the skeptics and realists aren’t convinced that any major changes will come out of the court’s arbitration.

Based on similar situations in the past and the geopolitical landscape of the region, here is what experts expect to happen:

Before the arbitration court ruling: China steps up its activities in the South China Sea to show other countries its effective control of the Sea. Meanwhile, the Philippines will welcome further military aid from the United States, likely via the form of fighter jets stationed in the country.

During the arbitration court decision: It is believed that the UN will side with the Philippines, but China’s actions won’t change. China’s claims come from the “nine-dash line,” a historical use of the sea dating back 2,000 years. This outdated system is not compatible with common maritime decisions.

After the arbitration court ruling: Largely, everything will go back to normal. “Beijing will express total outrage at the ruling, refusing to acknowledge its validity,” forecasts Sean King. “Vietnam and others will politely applaud a favorable Manila ruling, as it’ll knock down Beijing a peg or two and thus, at least rhetorically, strengthen their own posture versus Beijing.”

Will this bout of UN intervention stick, or will be start back at square one when July begins?

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