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The South China Sea Arbitration

Understanding the Awards and Debating with China

Alfredo C. Robles, Jr. is University Fellow at De La Salle University, Manila. He holds doctorate degrees in International and European Studies from the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne and in Political Science from Syracuse University. He has taught at institutions in East Asia, North America, and Western Europe and published extensively on ASEAN-EU relations and the Asia-Europe Meeting in East Asia and Western Europe.

In the Series
Asian & Asian American Studies

The South China Sea Arbitration, which marks the first time that the Philippines and China have been parties to a compulsory dispute settlement procedure, is a landmark legal case. The Tribunal tackled head-on critical issues in the interpretation and application of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that other international courts have failed to address, particularly the compatibility of historic rights with the Convention, the identification of maritime features as permanently submerged or above water at high-tide, and the distinction between features that are fully entitled to maritime zones and those that are not. In addition, the Tribunal also had to decide on issues as diverse as near-collisions at sea, illegal fishing of giant clams and sea turtles, and the destruction of fragile coral reefs resulting from island-building.

The Tribunal’s task was rendered arduous by China’s refusal to appear before it. In these circumstances, understanding the Tribunal’s decisions is a challenging undertaking. China’s public relations campaign targeting the proceedings raised issues that the layperson could readily grasp, notably African states’ support for its non-appearance, the integrity of the judges, and the validity of arbitral awards. Understanding the Awards and Debating with China aims to facilitate understanding of the South China Sea Arbitration by presenting detailed summaries of the two Arbitral Awards. The author rebuts the questionable claims raised by China’s public relations campaign and highlights China’s covert actions during the proceedings.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-962-3
Paperback Price: £50.00 / $74.95
Release Date: January 2019
Page Extent / Format: 320 pp. 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: No



Part I Understanding the Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility and Debating with China

  • Summary of the Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility of 29 October 2015
  • Victory in Round 1, but Not Really a Knockout
  • China's Informal Participation in the Arbitration in Contravention of International Law
  • The Arbitral Tribunal: 200 Years of Legal Experience
  • The Lawyers of the Philippines: A Brilliant Track Record
  • China Should Emulate Africa in the Area of Peaceful Dispute Settlement
  • The South China Sea Disputes: A View From Togo (West Africa)

Part II Understanding the Award of 12 July 2016 and Debating with China

  • Summary of the Award of 12 July 2016
  • Reading the Award of 12 July 2016
  • Are You Going to Scarborough Shoal?
  • Territorial and Maritime Claims in Multilateral Forums: The Example of China
  • Memo to Taiwan: Beijing Is (Almost Always) to Blame
  • The Binding Force of the Award of 12 July 2016
  • Unraveling China's Conspiracy Theory of International Arbitration


  • Table 1 Maritime Features That Are the Object of Submission Nos. 3 to 7
  • Table 2 South China Sea Maritime Features Referred to in Chapter VI.C  of the Award of 12 July 2016 263
  • Table 3 Overview of China's Construction Activities in the Spratly Islands
  • Table 4 Comparison of the Assessment of the Environmental Impact of China's Construction Activities in the Spratly Islands by China's SOA and by the Tribunal's Experts


Yet, it is precisely on his scholarship that Robles must be recognized. He brings into the table a richness of sources. A polyglot, he goes beyond the usual English language material accessed by the reading public, and, more importantly, researchers in the Philippines. The reader is exposed to legal decisions and opinions from French and Spanish source materials. In bringing in these different sources, he feeds into the discussion fresh (from the perspective of Filipinos) outlooks, and exposure to the benefit of familiarity with the extensive European experience with international law and its procedures. His inclusion of African cases and the discussion on how this should inform the Chinese approach to the issue is not just informative but also exposes the bankruptcy of the diplomatic maneuvers taken by the Chinese government to buttress its position involving countries that are beholden to its economic munificence.

Reviewed by Herman Joseph S. Kraft, Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines Diliman, in the Philippine Political Science Journal, 40 (2019) 183–196

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