US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was “impossible” for the tribunal decision to be irrelevant. The arbitral tribunal ruling favored the case against China filed by the Philippines on the disputed territories on the West Philippine Sea.
Though omitted from the joint statement made by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Laos recently, the tribunal ruling remains relevant on anything pertaining to international law.
“It’s impossible for it to be irrelevant. It’s legally binding. It’s obviously a decision of court that is recognized under international law and it has to be part of the calculation,” Kerry said on Wednesday, July 27, in a press briefing held at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila.
In fact, Kerry believed the tribunal ruling is a plus factor for the Philippines as it bargains with China on the issue. “I’m confident our friends in the Philippines will make their judgment about what their negotiating position is and how they intend to proceed forward.”
Though the omission of the ruling from the ASEAN statement was seen by some as a victory for China, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay denied this. He maintained that they had “precisely agreed” not to mention the matter in the statement.
Stick to the law
Kerry stressed the significance of abiding by the rule of law to resolve disputes on international issues, especially the dispute on the West Philippine Sea. He voiced out how the US desires that all parties involved in the claim on the South China Sea, especially the Philippines and China, should keep negotiations open. Negative confrontation should be avoided and instead work for a “solution mindful of the rights of people established under the law,” he added.
Moreover, he clarified that “The United States is not—we are not a claimant. The United States does not take a position on competing sovereignty claims to the land features of the South China Sea. But we do take a strong position on protecting the rights, the freedoms, and the lawful use of air and sea space as defined by international law.”
Kerry further explained that, “We have made clear that the decision of the arbitral tribunal convened under the UN Law of the Sea Convention is legally binding. And we expect the parties will comply with their obligations in the law.”
The US state secretary also repeated how the US urges restraint among all the parties and claimants involved and to weigh the tribunal ruling specifically and the disputes in general. Kerry lauded the Philippines because of the “very responsible and measured way that the government has responded to the decision.”
Finally, Kerry expressed hopes to “see a real opportunity for claimants to work together to constructively, peacefully manage, and ultimately resolve, their differences consistent with international law.”
Beijing released a statement rejecting The Hague ruling, calling it “null and void.” They expressed interest in engaging in bilateral talks with the Philippines to resolve the maritime dispute but with the condition that the arbitral tribunal verdict will not be used as a basis in the negotiations.