South China Sea arbitral award is not 'a piece of waste paper'

Five years on, there remains much confusion over the process that led to the ruling in the Philippines-China dispute. A close-up look at the law of the sea sheds light on the proceedings and their legal effect.

Activists demonstrating outside the Chinese consulate on the fifth anniversary of an international arbitral court ruling invalidating Beijing’s historical claims over the waters of the South China Sea, in Makati City, Philippines, earlier this month. PHOTO: REUTERS

July 2021 marks the fifth anniversary of the award of the arbitral tribunal in the South China Sea dispute between the Philippines and China.

Since the Philippines initiated the case against China in 2013, there have been countless stories in the press and on social media about it. Some have critiqued the substantive legal outcome in the award while others have cast doubt on the procedural aspects of the arbitral proceedings, inevitably raising questions on the legitimacy and validity of both.

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