Asia is currently the scene of some of the most high-profile maritime disputes in the world. Even though the majority of states in Asia are parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS], its dispute settlement system has only been utilized in a handful of cases. Given that negotiations have brought about limited results in easing many of the tensions, it is worth asking whether the UNCLOS dispute settlement system can play a role in the resolution of maritime disputes in Asia. This paper, based on a review of the disputes before UNCLOS Tribunals, as well the advantages and limitations of the system, argues that the UNCLOS dispute settlement system can make meaningful contributions to resolving thorny disputes between Asian states. It does so by providing a solution to the disputes brought before them, clarifying the legal framework for the conduct of the parties and facilitating co-operation amongst countries in the region.
PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge.
1. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 396, 21 I.L.M. 1261 (entered into force 16 November 1994) [UNCLOS].
2. “‘A Constitution for the Oceans’—Remarks by Tommy T.B. Koh of Singapore, President of the Third United Nations Conference of the Law”, Statements by the President on 6 and 11 December 1982, online: UN <http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/koh_english.pdf>.
3. NOYES, John E., “Compulsory Third-Party Adjudication and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” (1989) 4 Connecticut Journal of International Law 675 at 675 ; ADEDE, A.O., “Settlement of Disputes Arising Under the Law of the Sea Convention” (1975) 69 American Journal of International Law 798 at 816 .
4. DAVENPORT, Tara, “Joint Development in Asia: Lessons for Sustainable Peace in the South China Sea”, 8th Asian Law Institute Conference, Japan 2011, 3–4, online: <http://cil.nus.edu.sg/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/TaraDavenport-ASLI-Joint-Development-as-a-tool-for-peace-4-April-2011-v2.pdf>; KWON, Park Hee, The Law of the Sea and Northeast Asia: A Challenge for Cooperation (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2000) at 117 .
5. Sovereignty Over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia/Malaysia),  I.C.J. Rep. 625; Sovereignty Over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/Singapore),  I.C.J. Rep. 12.
6. Land Reclamation in and Around the Straits of Johor (Malaysia v. Singapore), Provisional Measures, Order of 8 October 2003,  ITLOS Rep. 10 at 23.
7. Ibid., at 72.
8. Ibid., at 96.
10. Case Concerning Land Reclamation by Singapore in and Around the Straits of Johor (Malaysia v. Singapore), Decision of 1 September 2005,  XXVII Reports of International Arbitral Awards 133 at 19 [Land Reclamation Award].
11. Ibid., at 21.
12. Ibid., at 24.
13. KOG Yue-Choong, “Environmental Management and Conflict in Southeast Asia—Land Reclamation and its Political Impact”, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies Singapore Working Paper Series, 5, online: <https://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/rsis-pubs/WP101.pdf>.
14. KOH, Tommy and LIN, Jolene, “The Land Reclamation Case: Thoughts and Reflections” (2006) 10 Singapore Yearbook of International Law 1 at 1 .
15. Kog, supra note 13.
16. See Annex of Land Reclamation Award, supra note 10.
17. Koh and Lin, supra note 14 at 6.
19. Southern Bluefin Tuna (New Zealand v. Japan; Australia v. Japan), Provisional Measures, Order of 27 August 1999,  ITLOS Rep. 280; MOX Plant (Ireland v. United Kingdom), Provisional Measures, Order of 3 December 2001,  ITLOS Rep. 95.
20. STEPHENS, Tim, International Courts and Environment Protection (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) at 242 .
21. See BISSINGER, Jared, “The Maritime Boundary Dispute Between Bangladesh and Myanmar: Motivations, Potential Solutions, and Implications” (2010) 10 Asia Policy 103 at 107 .
22. Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary in the Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh/Myanmar), Judgment,  ITLOS Rep. 4 at 3 and 4.
23. Ibid., at 152–3.
24. Ibid., at 233. This three-stage process involves: (i) drawing a provisional equidistance line, (ii) determining whether there are any relevant circumstances that call for the adjustment of the provisional equidistance line, and (iii) using the proportionality test to ensure that the final outcome is equitable.
25. Ibid., at 234–9.
26. Ibid., at 318, 320.
27. Ibid., at 324.
28. Ibid., at 477.
29. Rules of the Procedure of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, CLCS/40/Rev.1 (2008), at Annex I, para. 5(a).
30. Bangladesh/Myanmar, supra note 22 at 389–90.
31. This was not the first time an international tribunal established that it had jurisdiction to delimit the outer continental shelf. However, it was the first time the Tribunal exercised its jurisdiction to do so. See Arbitration Between Barbados and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Relating to the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf between Them, Decision of 11 April 2006,  XXVII Reports of International Arbitral Awards 147 at 209.
32. Bangladesh/Myanmar, supra note 22 at 444–6.
33. This was not the first time an international tribunal established that it had jurisdiction to delimit the outer continental shelf. But it was the first time the Tribunal exercised its jurisdiction to do so. See Arbitration between Barbados and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Relating to the Delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf Between Them, Decision of 11 April 2006,  XXVII Reports of International Arbitral Awards 147 at 209.
34. Ibid., at 462.
35. Ibid., at 463.
36. WATSON, Sarah, “The Bangladesh/Myanmar Maritime Dispute: Lessons for Peaceful Resolution” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (19 October 2015), online: Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative <http://amti.csis.org/the-bangladeshmyanmar-maritime-dispute-lessons-for-peaceful-resolution/>.
37. ROUL, Animesh, “Standoff in the Bay of Bengal” The International Relations and Security Network (20 November 2008), online: Center for Security Studies <http://www.css.ethz.ch/en/services/digital-library/articles/article.html/93998>.
38. Bissinger, supra note 21 at 137.
39. PANDAY, Pranab Kumar, “Bangladesh and Myanmar Resolve Longstanding Maritime Dispute” East Asia Forum (26 April 2012), online: East Asia Forum <http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2012/04/26/bangladesh-and-myanmar-resolve-longstanding-maritime-dispute/>.
40. CHURCHILL, Robin, “The Bangladesh/Myanmar Case: Continuity and Novelty in the Law of Maritime Boundary Delimitation” (2012) 1 Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law 137 at 152 .
41. Bangladesh/Myanmar, supra note 22 at 358.
42. SCHOFIELD, Clive and TELESETSKY, Anastasia, “Grey Clouds or Clearer Skies Ahead? Implications of The Bay of Bengal Case” (2012) 3 Law of the Sea Reports 1 at 10 .
43. See COLSON, David A., “The Delimitation of the Outer Continental Shelf between Neighboring States” (2003) 97 American Journal of International Law 91 at 94 .
44. MISHRA, Raghavendra, “The ‘Grey Area’ in the Northern Bay of Bengal: A Note on a Functional Cooperative Solution” (2016) 47 Ocean Development & International Law 29 at 36 .
45. BURKE, Naomi, “Annex VII Arbitral Tribunal Delimits Maritime Boundary Between Bangladesh and India in the Bay of Bengal” ASIL Insights (22 September 2014), online: American Society of International Law <https://www.asil.org/insights/volume/18/issue/20/annex-vii-arbitral-tribunal-delimits-maritime-boundary-between>.
46. Bay of Bengal Maritime Boundary Arbitration (Bangladesh/India), Arbitral Award at 411, online: <http://www.pcacases.com/web/sendAttach/383>.
47. Ibid., at 248.
48. Ibid., at 274–6.
49. Ibid., at 346.
50. Ibid., at 437.
51. Ibid., at 408.
52. Ibid., at 507–8.
53. Burke, supra note 45.
54. SHARMA, Rajeev, “UN Tribunal Puts an End to 40-Year-Old India-Bangladesh Maritime Dispute” RT Question More (16 July 2014), online: RT <https://www.rt.com/op-edge/172960-un-india-bangladesh-dispute-end/>.
55. BHATTACHARJEE, Rupak, “Delimitation of Indo-Bangladesh Maritime Boundary” Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (19 August 2014), online: Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses <http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/DelimitationofIndo-Bangladesh_rbhattacharjee_190814>.
56. PANDA, Ankit, “Reclamation, Arbitration, Competition: South China Sea Situation Report” The Diplomat (9 May 2015), online: The Diplomat <http://thediplomat.com/2015/05/reclamation-arbitration-competition-south-china-sea-situation-report/>; BORGER, Julian and PHILLIPS, Tom, “How China’s Artificial Islands Led to Tension in the South China Sea” The Guardian (27 October 2015), online: The Guardian <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/27/tensions-and-territorial-claims-in-the-south-china-sea-the-guardian-briefing>.
57. See BECKMAN, Robert, “The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea” (2013) 107 American Journal of International Law 142 at 143–158 .
58. United Nations, “Note of China, CML/17/2009” (7 May 2009), online: UN <http://www.un.org/Depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/mysvnm33_09/chn_2009re_mys_vnm_e.pdf>.
59. “The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China, Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility” PCA Cases, online: PCA Cases <http://www.pcacases.com/web/sendAttach/1506> at 4–6.
60. NGUYEN, Lan, “South China Sea: Philippines v. China” The Diplomat (27 July 2015), online: The Diplomat <http://thediplomat.com/2015/07/south-china-sea-philippines-v-china/>.
61. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Position Paper of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Matter of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Republic of the Philippines” (7 December 2014), online: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China <http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1217147.shtml>.
62. Philippines v. China, supra note 59 at 68.
63. Ibid., at 153.
64. Ibid., at 156.
65. Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (24 February 1976), 1025 UNTS 317.
66. Convention on Biological Diversity (5 June 1992), 1760 UNTS 79.
67. Ibid., at 229, 248, 269, 289.
68. Ibid., at 302, 310, 321.
69. Ibid., at 334–42.
70. Ibid., at 333.
71. Ibid., at 396.
72. “The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China, Award” PCA Cases (12 July 2016), online: PCA <http://www.pcacases.com/pcadocs/PH-CN%20-%2020160712%20-%20Award.pdf>.
73. Ibid., at 229, 695.
74. Ibid., at 1162
75. Ibid., at 278.
76. Ibid., at 643–7.
77. Ibid., at 646.
78. Ibid., at 992–3.
79. Ibid., at 716, 757, 814.
80. Ibid., at 1109.
81. See COHEN, Jerome A., “International Arbitration and Adjudication as South China Sea Confidence-Building Measures” in Murray HIEBERT, Phuong NGUYEN, and Gregory B. POLING, eds., Perspectives on the South China Sea: Diplomatic, Legal, and Security Dimensions of the Dispute (Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) at 22 ; DUONG, Huy, “Negotiating the South China Sea” The Diplomat (20 July 2011), online: The Diplomat <http://thediplomat.com/2011/07/negotiating-the-south-china-sea/>.
82. Philippines v. China, supra note 59 at 126.
83. BATONGBACAL, Jay, “Implications of the Philippines v. China Award on Jurisdiction” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (5 November 2015), online: Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative <http://amti.csis.org/implications-of-the-philippines-v-china-award-on-jurisdiction/>.
84. See e.g. Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nguyen Phuong Nga Answers Question from the Media at the Press Conference on June 9th 2011 Concerning the Viking II incident” (9 June 2011), online: Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs <http://www.mofa.gov.vn/en/tt_baochi/pbnfn/ns110610100618#kyKoH1NekSr9>.
85. Philippines v. China, supra note 59 at 16.
86. Davenport, supra note 4. See more generally Alex G.O. ELFERINK, “The Islands in the South China Sea: How Does Their Presence Limit the Extent of the High Seas and the Area and the Maritime Zones of the Mainland Coasts?” (2001) 32 Ocean Development and International Law 169 at 171.
87. Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia),  I.C.J. Rep. 624 at 26; Philippines v. China, supra note 72, at 309.
88. Bangladesh/India, supra note 46 at 218.
89. Bissinger, supra note 21 at 110.
90. “Full Text of Statement of China’s Foreign Ministry on Award of South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by Philippines” Xinhua (12 July 2016), online: Xinhua <http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-07/12/c_135507744.htm>.
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100. The UK amended declaration broadened the scope of the exclusion to the ICJ’s jurisdiction to include disputes with a country “which is or has been a Member of the Commonwealth”. See Declarations Recognizing as Compulsory the Jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice Under art. 36, para. 2 of the Statute of the Court, online: <http://www.icj-cij.org/jurisdiction/?p1=5&p2=1&p3=3&code=GB>.
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106. KARIM, Saiful, “Litigating Law of the Sea Disputes Using the UNCLOS Dispute Settlement System” in Natalie KLEIN, ed., Litigating International Law Disputes Weighing the Options (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 272 .
107. Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration, supra note 97 at 221, 230.
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109. SMITH, Sheila A., “A Sino-Japanese Clash in the East China Sea” Council on Foreign Relations (April 2013), online: Council on Foreign Relations <http://www.cfr.org/japan/sino-japanese-clash-east-china-sea/p30504>; Sam LAGRONE, “Chinese and Japanese Fighters Clash Over East China Sea” US Naval Institute News (5 July 2016), online: US Naval Institute News <https://news.usni.org/2016/07/05/chinese-japanese-fighters-clash-east-china-sea>.
110. “Arctic Sunrise” (Kingdom of the Netherlands v. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures, Order of 22 November 2013,  ITLOS Rep. 230.
111. “Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise: Russia ‘Frees Protest Ship’” BBC (6 June 2014), online: BBC <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-27736927>.
112. Tara DAVENPORT, “Southeast Asian Approaches to Maritime Boundaries” (2014) 4 Asian Journal of International Law 309 at 347.
113. Tatsushi ARAI, Shihoko GOTO, and Zheng WANG, eds., “Clash of National Identities: China, Japan, and the East China Sea Territorial Dispute” Wilson Center (February 2013), online: Wilson Center <https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/asia_china_seas_web.pdf>; Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative, “East China Sea Tensions: Approaching a Slow Boil” (14 April 2016), online: Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative <https://amti.csis.org/east-china-sea-tensions/>.
114. CHESTERMAN, Simon, “The International Court of Justice in Asia: Interpreting the Temple of Preah Vihear Case” (2015) 5 Asian Journal of International Law 1 ; BUNDY, Rodman R., “Asian Perspectives on Inter-State Litigation” in Klein, supra note 106 at 148.
115. Official Records of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Vol. V (United Nations publication, Sales No. E. 76. V. 8).
116. Ibid., 41 at 71–2.
117. Ibid., 41 at 63.
118. Ibid., 28 at 69.
119. Ibid., 17 at 39.
120. Ibid., 10 at 24.
* PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge.
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