Manila Appoints Crack Legal Team to Oppose Beijing

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Sept. 29 – The government of the Philippines has assembled a “formidable” international legal team to fight its case against China’s claims in the South China Sea before a United Nations arbitration tribunal. The Philippines’ lead legal counsel, Washington-based Maritime law expert Paul Reichler, has said his five-strong team includes British law professors Philippe Sands and Alan Boyle, as well as Bernard Oxman from the Miami School of Law. The team will be managed by Philippine Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza. They will argue their case against China at the United Nation’s International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which hinges of on a document first drafted in the early 1980s.

Five international judges will hear the case, and have told Manila it has until March next year to present written arguments concerning the case merits and admissibility. China is a member of the arbitration tribunal but has forgone its right to select one of the judges for the panel. To date, Beijing has refused to participate, saying the case “has no legal grounds” and indicated it will “ignore” any ruling made that is not in its favor. Quite what will happen if a ruling is made in favor of the Philippines and if China refuses to acknowledge a decision made by the United Nations – of which it is a permanent member – remains unclear.

Theoretically, it could lead to deployment of U.S. warships to the region to protect sovereign and international rights, while any decision by Beijing to ignore the United Nations’ rulings is likely to be seen in a highly negative light by the international community.