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At China Impasse, Philippines Show of self-reliance in Arm - 2 Naval vessel construction begin in Indonesia + 2 Landing Craft aid from Australia Coming

Sat, 02/07/2015 - 21:29

FILE - The Philippine Navy is upgrading its fleet amid growing maritime disputes. Here, one of its troops fires a .50-caliber machine gun during a bilateral maritime exercise between the Philippine Navy and U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, June 29, 2014 - Image source: VOA
At China Sea Impasse, Manila Bolsters NavyMANILA—The Philippine Navy is upgrading its capabilities at a time of continuing tensions with China over disputed territory in the South China Sea.   In recent weeks, an Indonesian naval shipbuilder started work on two "strategic sealift vessels" that the Philippines is acquiring for more than $87 million and expects within two years, said Commander Lued Lincunad, a navy spokesman.Each one "will enhance our defense capability and operational capabilities. It has a helipad and can accommodate three choppers at any one time," Lincunad said. Each can be used for command and control, and each "can house a battalion of the marines" and special operations forces.The vessels represent the navy's latest efforts to control a resource-rich and strategically valuable expanse of ocean.As part of a five-year, $1.8 billion military modernization program, the navy already has acquired several big-ticket items, including two frigates that used to be U.S. Coast Guard cutters. The nearly 50-year-old ships, retrofitted with modern munitions and companion helicopters, have been patrolling the archipelago's shores for the past two years. Four more frigates are on order and another two navy helicopters identical to the three already in use are expected to arrive by May.Upgrading resourcesThe Philippines' annual military spending is $2.6 billion, miniscule compared to China's $132 billion military budget in 2014. But Manila has focused its resources on improving its capability to monitor and respond to developments in the South China Sea.China, which claims practically the entire South China Sea, has steadily increased its presence in the contested region in recent years. Now, Chinese construction teams are reclaiming land on outcroppings among some of the Spratly Islands that the Philippines claims.
Chinese surveillance ships have also regularly driven away Philippine vessels from contested reefs and shoals, including Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines says is well within its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone. Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims in the resource-rich sea.Philippines, Japan make pactLast week, the Philippine Department of National Defense and Japan's Ministry of Defense for the first time signed an agreement to forge closer defense ties on matters such as joint military drills and cooperation on global security.Without giving specifics, officials said both countries share the same view on the situations in the South China and East China Seas, where China's high visibility has raised anxiety among its neighbors.National defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said the Philippines is looking for support from Japan in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "Any of those capabilities where they could probably help us out, that's what we're requesting," he said.The Philippines is building an $18 million coast watch command center. It will coordinate communications among the navy, coast guard, maritime police and other agencies to guard its maritime borders. Lincuna said the watch system includes a network of land- and ship- based surveillance equipment.Galvez said the country is also looking to Japan for help with humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities.Show of self-relianceThe Philippines' small-scale buildup demonstrates to the United States, its only treaty ally, that it is helping itself and not just relying on outside partnerships, said Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia security analyst with the Australian Defense Force Academy.Now if Filipino warships are attacked, "that triggers consultations with the United States," Thayer said. "It doesn't mean they [Filipinos] have to be reckless. It means that China now has to take into account those vessels. You call that extended deterrence: You punch the Philippines, you get Uncle Sam behind them."The Philippines is also keeping up and building strategic partnerships with other neighbors. Last week, the Philippine and Vietnamese foreign ministers held talks on strengthening security ties.Australia announced last week it will donate to the Philippines two refurbished 40-year-old landing craft vessels capable of transporting "large amounts of cargo, personnel and equipment" to hard-to-reach shores. - Voice of America

Philippines' FOREX Forex reserves hit $80.18 Billion USD in Jan 2015

Sat, 02/07/2015 - 11:07

Forex reserves hit $80.18 B in Jan 2015. Image source: thenews.com.pk

MANILA, Philippines - The country's gross international reserves went up in January from end-2014 level, driven by an upward adjustment in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' gold holdings, government's foreign currency deposits and foreign exchange inflows.Central bank data showed the country's GIR amounted to $80.18 billion last month, higher than the revised $79.54 billion in December last year."The increase in reserves was due mainly to the government's net foreign currency deposits, revaluation adjustments on the BSP's gold holdings and foreign currency-denominated reserves, and income from its investments abroad," the BSP said.These were partly counterbalanced by payments made by the government for its maturing foreign exchange-denominated obligations, the central bank said.The GIR reflects a country's ability to pay for imports of goods and services and to service foreign debt.The latest figure is enough to cover 10.3 months' worth of the imports of goods and payments of services and income.Moreover, this is also equivalent to 8.3 times the country's short-term external debt based on original maturity and 5.7 times based on residual maturity.BSP data also showed net international reserves of GIR less the short-term debts also rose to $80.18 billion as of end-January, up from the $79.54 billion in December.Last year, the $79.54-billion figure in end-2014 was within the central bank's estimate of a $79-billion to $80-billion reserves during the period.In 2013, foreign exchange reserves summed up to $83.187 billion, slightly below the $83.572 billion in 2012. - philSTAR

Mayor Rudy Duterte decided for Presidential race in 2016's aim for New Federal Government

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 19:38





Duterte eyes abolition of Congress - Yahoo

Duterte eyes abolition of CongressIf elected president in 2016BUTUAN CITY – Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to end corruption by abolishing Congress, as well as increasing the salaries of government employees, if he is elected president.Duterte however, clarified that he has not decided yet to run in 2016, saying he is still waiting for divine guidance."I will not run if I think I can't make significant changes or reforms in our country. That's why I am still awaiting for a sign from God," he said.The Davao mayor said he would replace Congress with a parliamentary federal form of government."If we will follow the presidential form of government, it will take us 40 to 50 years before we can achieve the needed reforms," Duterte told guests during the Federalism Forum here last Thursday.He also promised to streamline the bureaucracy, privatize the Bureau of Internal Revenue and other government collection agencies, and put an end to insurgency.He said private and government workers earning ₱25,000 Php per month and below would be exempted from paying taxes.The tax collection system will be simplified to avoid corruption. - Yahoo News

Philippine Navy will buy 3 Submarines, 12 corvettes in 15 years from $11.1 Billion USD Budget plan

Tue, 01/13/2015 - 23:48

Pagasa (Hope) Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines Image Credit: REUTERS/Rolex Dela Pena/Pool

The Philippine Navy’s 15-year Strategic Development Plan: (“Philippine Fleet Desired Force Mix” envisages a surface)

* Sub-surface and aerial assets including major “big-ticket items” such as six anti-air warfare-oriented frigates, 12 corvettes optimized for anti-submarine warfare (ASW)

* 18 offshore patrol vessels, three submarines

* 3 mine countermeasures vessels, up to four Strategic Support Vessels (SSVs)

* Up to 8 Amphibious Maritime Patrol Aircraft

* 18 naval helicopters equipped for ASW

The Philippine Navy’s Submarine Quest

How realistic are plans for the Philippines to acquire submarines?

During a modernization briefing on December 17, Philippine Navy (PN) vice-chief Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad revealed future plans to acquire at least three submarines, as part of a follow-up to the ongoing 15-year P90-billion Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program.

The South China Sea disputes are no doubt a key motivation, when the rear-admiral remarked that “the events in the West Philippine Sea actually gave some urgency on the acquisition,” referring to the overall PN plan to purchase new assets, including a ten-year timeline for submarine purchase.

The PN’s 15-year Strategic Development Plan, revolving around the “Philippine Fleet Desired Force Mix” envisages a surface, sub-surface and aerial assets including major “big-ticket items” such as six anti-air warfare-oriented frigates, 12 corvettes optimized for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), 18 offshore patrol vessels, three submarines, three mine countermeasures vessels, up to four Strategic Support Vessels (SSVs), up to eight Amphibious Maritime Patrol Aircraft, and 18 naval helicopters equipped for ASW. Not counting a significant number of coastal patrol assets, fleet auxiliaries and other aerial support platforms.

If all purchase options are to be exercised, a sustained long-term funding commitment is required. In May 2012, the PN authorities remarked that the upgrade will cost P500 billion ($11.1 billion). It is not certain whether the plan can survive the incumbent Aquino administration, which has thus far demonstrated zeal in propellingmodest but nonetheless significant acquisitions (within available fiscal means), including two new-build SSVs and two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters.

Prioritizing the South China Sea

Among the assets desired, submarines would be ideal sea denial assets to deter China’s moves against Manila’s South China Sea interests. But assuming China is the foremost adversary in mind, the submarine acquisition will not necessarily be a game changer. Still, while three submarines cannot plausibly alter the naval balance of power in the contested waters, they may potentially complicate Chinese naval planning. Also facing significant force asymmetry with China, Vietnam’s submarine purchase in 2009 was undertaken with a similar approach.

The only question is whether sea denial alone is sufficient. Manila needs to do more than just ensure continuous access to its garrisoned Spratlys features for resupply and reinforcements. In the event of hostilities, the Philippines would need to have the capability to recapture features seized by adversarial forces. The Philippine maritime services, which collectively include the Navy, Coast Guard, National Police, and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, face a more immediate challenge of unfriendly coast guard-type actions backed by naval surface forces in Philippine-claimed waters. What these services need are more surface assets possessing high endurance and good seakeeping qualities to allow the projection and sustainment of Philippine maritime presence in where it matters most.

In an operating scenario where contending parties endeavor to maintain a visible naval presence to assert sovereignty in disputed waters, submarines have less utility. Remaining surfaced simply contradicts the submarine’s basic design ethos, which is to stay invisible and hidden until the opportune moment comes to surprise the enemy, fire the sub’s weapons, and scoot away unscathed.

In peacetime, submarines do have a role in intelligence gathering. A submarine is useful for closely monitoring hostile activities in disputed areas where surface forces are unable to do so, as seen in the case of Vietnamese vessels being blocked by the China Coast Guard from getting too near the HYSY981 oil rig off the Paracel Islands in May 2014.

That said, submarines serve mainly a wartime sea denial role, yet their peacetime utility besides deterrence would be limited. Funding constraints would circumscribe the present purchases to priority platforms such as surface assets. The PN authorities are well aware of this. Taccad made this point clearly. Not only did he recognize that submarines “take a lot of gestation period” but he also remarked that the first capability to be acquired will be “what we can afford and yet cover a large space and this will be the patrol vessels. These are low-tech equipment, and low-cost. You can have more and cover a large space.”

Insurmountable Cost Issues?

Indeed, unlike surface assets, submarines are more expensive to acquire when one has to consider not just boats but the entire package of training, infrastructure, spares, maintenance, repair and overhaul – all necessitating long-term investments underpinned by political will and fiscal commitments. But it is important to note that these problems are not insurmountable.

In May 2012, a report published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) wrote that the Philippines requires, amongst various modern air and naval assets, “an affordable force of four to six mini-submarines” for credible defense against growing Chinese belligerence in the South China Sea. There are indeed cheaper options on the market if full-sized diesel-electric submarines displacing over 1,000-3,000 tons submerged are beyond reach. Coastal submarines displacing 1,000 tons or less submerged, for instance the SMX-23 built by French DCNS, are available for cost-constrained navies. After all, due to initial budget constraints Vietnam first operated North Korean-built mini-submarines in the 1990s before finally acquiring the larger, vastly superiorKilo class.

Second-hand boats could be another possible, cost-effective pathway for the PN to acquire and accumulate sufficient know-how before purchasing newer boats. Singapore first acquired the 1960s-era ex-SwedishSjöormen-class boats for training before acquiring the newer Västergotland-class and lately, Type-218SG boats to be designed and constructed in Germany. This is an example of an incremental strategy taking into account prevailing fiscal, human capital, and other resource constraints.

Finally, Manila may offset some of the expenses by seeking external ancillary assistance, for example agreements analogous to the Indonesia-Singapore and Singapore-Vietnam submarine rescue pacts. On the whole, though, even with external help, submarine acquisition remains a costly, operationally, and technically challenging enterprise that warrants prudent, long-term measures.

A Phased Submarine Plan?

In fact, back in December 1999, then PN Vice Admiral Luisito Fernandez revealed that the navy created a “core group” to evaluate submarine acquisition by 2010. This announcement came about a year after the Second Mischief Reef Incident with China. But the AFP was then preoccupied with counter-insurgency operations in the Mindanao region. As a result, the land forces received the lion’s share of limited defense funding. Not only was submarine acquisition by 2010 impossible, the bulk of the antiquated Philippine Fleet continued its downward slide into disrepair without major revitalization efforts.

But the context today and in the foreseeable future is different. Manila at present has a long PN upgrade wish list but recognizes funding constraints. In recent years, Philippine defense and naval planners had revealed policy thinking that indicated firm commitment to the submarine quest.

In August 2011, Aquino noted that the PN was exploring the possibility of submarine procurement. At the time,then PN chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama expressed caution, calling the plan “a complicated matter” and pointed out that “we don’t want to commit a mistake by jumping into something. As I said, we don’t want to buy something which eventually we cannot chew and swallow.” He said the PN would look into the practicality of purchasing submarines.

Even though a lump-sum P500 billion for the PN upgrade is unavailable, it is misleading to call current ongoing acquisitions an ad-hoc effort. The initial phase comprises a combination of new-build and second-hand purchases, such as the AW109 helicopters and cutters which enter service in 2013-15. Successive tranches of funding would sustain follow-on phases, such as a P75 billion AFP modernization program in May 2013 that prioritizes a navy upgrade envisaging two brand-new frigates, two ASW-capable helicopters, and three coastal patrol vessels by 2017.

In October 2013, then commander of the Northern Luzon Command Major General Gregorio Pio Catapang reiterated the desire for three submarines as part of the “Philippine Fleet Desired Force Mix.” Catapang stressed the need for military procurements to adhere to national strategic or operational requirements, as opposed to an expedient approach driven by external military aid. In his current capacity as AFP chief of staff, Catapang recently noted the need for the armed forces to become reoriented to external defense. The comment adds impetus to the submarine commitment.

Manila’s submarine acquisition is not meant to be mere symbolism. Operational thought has been devoted to conceiving a force size capable of sustainable deployment. If it is impossible to purchase three submarines, Taccad mentioned, the PN would settle for two, so that one boat is deployable while the other is undergoing routine maintenance. The alternative to acquiring submarines, he also noted, would be missile-armed frigates, referring to the new frigates as well as the potential retrofit of missiles on board the existing pair of cutters to serve as a deterrent and backup for patrols against foreign harassment.

ASW First, Submarines Next?

Judging from what has transpired, a phased submarine plan appears to be in the works. The December 17 revelation of having established a submarine office in 2013, plausibly a follow-up to the “core group” created in 1999, represents the first modest step forward.

It is clear that the PN has been paying attention to the submarine and ASW sector, which is logical in view of the regional submarine proliferation. The PN is keen to first acquire an ASW capability in the interim before finally acquiring submarines. This step, together with possible future ASW joint training with close allies who have submarines, would in the near-term give the Filipinos more insights on undersea warfare.

In fact, the push for ASW capabilities runs alongside the longer-term project for submarines, as part of the PN’s “Active Archipelagic Defense Strategy.” On several occasions since 2013, the PN has expressed its intent todevelop an ASW capability in the long term, in particular shipboard and helicopter ASW. Unprecedented (albeit still modest) efforts were made to realize this. In the first half of 2014, the PN announced its aim of acquiring two ASW helicopters, having allocated P5.4 billion to fund the purchase. This was followed up by an invite to bid for the program, which is part of the Medium-Term Development Capability Plan (MTDCP) 2013-2017. It was further augmented in late September 2014 when Manila issued another “invitation to bid” document to purchase a pair of ASW helicopters.

Where surface ASW is concerned, the PN is slated to receive a decommissioned, ex-ROK Navy Pohang-class corvette by end of 2014, with Philippine defense authorities saying that there is a good chance that the ship would be delivered with all combat systems intact, including ASW capabilities such as hull-mounted submarine-hunting sonar, torpedo tubes, and depth charge racks. Local efforts are also underway to develop ASW capabilities for the PN, for example Project Ilalim (Filipino for “under”) conducted by the Naval Research and Development Center to study and develop indigenous sonar systems for the PN.

These efforts to acquire an ASW capability, which is financially and technically more feasible to accomplish in the shorter term, would presage the PN’s eventual acquisition of an undersea capability. For the funding-constrained PN, this represents a logical approach, albeit an incremental one, towards eventually attaining a submarine capability. After all, acquiring ASW knowhow is a crucial first step towards gaining an undersea capability.

Learning from Other Regional Submarine Aspirants?

While skeptics may be tempted to dismiss this recent Philippine move to acquire submarines, Manila’s plan is no mere pipe dream. The PN is actually taking a deliberate approach in incremental phases to systematically induct submarines as part of the overall modernization effort. This pathway is no different from some other regional navies which had sought to build submarine capabilities from scratch.

The Indo-Pacific maritime region is in fact resplendent with national examples, besides Singapore and Vietnam, on how to start from low-base and implement long-term, phased submarine capacity-building efforts. For instance, despite having missed the chance to purchase second-hand German Type-206 submarines, Thailand created a shore-based submarine training center, equipped with a full-size replica of submarine command and control room, to kick-start training and accumulation of basic undersea warfare expertise. Bangladesh, having sent officers abroad for submarine training before it recently decided to purchase submarines, is another instructive example.

These examples would not have gone unnoticed by Philippine defense and naval planners. Indeed, ongoing Philippine efforts may well have already taken lessons from these examples. As such, while Manila’s submarine acquisition plan will take time to materialize, it is important not to underestimate its resolve.

If anything, the recent disclosure of having taking steps to establish a submarine capability ought to provide a major morale boost to the AFP and send a strong message to potential adversaries. Given sufficient political will and a well-conceived long-term strategy, Manila has the ability to overcome the hurdles it will face in the submarine acquisition process.

Koh Swee Lean Collin is associate research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. - The Diplomat 

 

 

Philippines vs. China: Law and Disorder in the South China Sea

Mon, 01/12/2015 - 16:40

Generalizations about Asian cultures are often misleading, if not despicably orientalist. But I would dare to say that the Philippines is a nation of lawyers, while China is a nation of strategists and business-minded leaders. And this partly explains how the two countries approach the South China Sea disputes.

Owing to its glaring conventional military inferiority, the Philippines has embarked on an unprecedented journey: Launching a legal warfare, dubbed as "lawfare," against China. Manila hopes to leverage international law to rein in China's relentless push across disputed waters in the South China Sea. In a nation of lawyers, the local media has tirelessly sought the views and analysis of lawyers rather than military strategists and foreign affairs experts, who may have a better grasp of the realities on the ground.

In the public sphere, there is minimal discussion of the intricacies of Chinese political system, the advent of popular nationalism and its impact on foreign policy, and complex decision-making processes that determine Beijing's territorial policy. Often, panel discussions among experts boil down to the various articles of the UNCLOS and the arbitration proceedings in The Hague. The upper-echelons of the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is also dominated by legal strategists. Leading geopolitical experts are often ignored.

Astonishingly, the Philippines' Department of Defense (DOD) recently postponed the refurbishment of its facilities on the Thitu (Pag-Asa to Filipinos) island, which is among the most prized features in the South China Sea, in order to supposedly maintain Manila's "moral high ground" amid the arbitration proceedings against China. In many ways, lawfare is the name of the game in the Philippines. Discussions on pro-active diplomacy and military modernization often take the backseat.

Meanwhile, China has combined diplomatic charm-offensive, anchored by multi-billion trade and investment deals across the Asia-Pacific theatre, with ruthless military strategy, featuring massive construction projects and para-military patrols across disputed waters. So far, China has astutely used economic incentives and diplomatic acrobatics to dispel any form of unity among Southeast Asia countries on the South China Sea disputes. It remains to be seen whether China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can even agree on the guidelines of a Code of Conduct (CoC) across disputed waters anytime soon.

The question therefore is: Does this mean that the Philippines did the right thing by resorting to compulsory arbitration against China?

A Historic Battle

The month of December has been particularly eventful. China, the U.S. and Vietnam have all expressed their position on the legal aspects of the maritime spats in the South China Sea. And China has officially boycotted the arbitration proceedings by refusing to submit a counter-memorial to the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague before the December 15 deadline.

China reiterated its outright opposition to any form of third party arbitration vis-a-vis sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea by releasing a position paper on Dec 7, which contains three major arguments. First, Beijing contends that the special arbitral tribunal at The Hague, where the Philippines filed a memorial earlier this year, has no jurisdiction over the issue, since the UNCLOS does not accord it the mandate to address what are essentially sovereignty-related issues. Although China is a signatory to treaty, it has exercised its right (under Article 298) to absolve itself of any compulsory arbitration (under Article 287 and Annex VII) over territorial delimitation issues, among other things.

Second, China maintains that, based on supposed "historical rights," it exercises "inherent and indisputable" sovereignty over the disputed features, including those that fall well within the Philippines' 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).Third, Beijing asserts that the Philippines violated prior bilateral and multilateral agreements (that is, the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, known as the DoC) by initiating a compulsory arbitration procedure under UNCLOS.

Interestingly, the position paper was released a week before the Monday deadline for China to submit its formal position, or defence, to the arbitral tribunal. The Philippines, in response, maintains that it is China that has violated the DoC by unilaterally altering the status quo through expansive construction activities, widening paramilitary patrols and coercive behavior within the South-east Asian country's EEZ, specifically in the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and, more recently, in the Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippines also maintains that the arbitral tribunal has the mandate to interpret the parameters of China's right to opt out of compulsory arbitration procedures. For the Philippines, its legal case is perfectly consistent with the mandate of the arbitration body, since its memorial focuses on whether China's notorious "nine-dashed-line" claim is consistent with international law, and the determination of the nature of disputed features (under Article 121) --specifically, whether they can be appropriated or occupied and generate their own respective territorial waters.

Joining the Fray

While the US does not take a position on the sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, it has indirectly supported the Philippines by supporting the resolution of the disputes in accordance with international law as well as questioning the validity of China's claims.The US State Department's position paper, released on Dec. 5, has raised issues with the "nine-dashed-line" doctrine, arguing that China's expansive claims lack precision and consistency.

After all, China has not unambiguously specified the exact coordinates of its territorial claims. It is not clear whether China claims much of the South China Sea, treating it as a virtual internal lake, or simply claims the land features in the area and their surrounding waters per se. The US, similar to most independent legal experts, also maintains that China's claim to historical rights over the South China Sea waters is not consistent with international law. China has neither exercised continuous and uncontested sovereignty over the area, nor does the South China Sea -- an artery of global trade, connecting the Pacific and Indian Oceans -- constitute a bay or any form of near-coastal water that can be appropriated based on historical rights-related claims.

In short, China's claims far exceed -- if not entirely contradict -- modern international law, specifically UNCLOS. Although the US is not a signatory to treaty, it has observed the international convention in its naval operations.

To the surprise of many observers, Vietnam joined the fray by submitting a position paper to the arbitral tribunal in The Hague last Friday, which contains three main points: It expressed its support for the Philippines' case; questioned the "nine-dashed-line" doctrine; and asked the arbitral tribunal to give due regard to Vietnam's rights and interests. Vietnam's maneuver will most likely have no significant impact on the pending legal case between the Philippines and China, but it carries significant political implications.

In recent months, Vietnam has been engaged in a sustained diplomatic effort to normalize relations with China and prevent another crisis in the disputed areas, especially in the light of the oil rig crisis in the South China Sea this year, which sparked huge protests in Vietnam and placed the two countries on the verge of armed confrontation. Vietnam's bold threat to join the Philippines' legal efforts against China carries the risk of renewed tensions in the South China Sea and of undermining tenuous, but critical, diplomatic channels between Hanoi and Beijing.

It seems, however, that Vietnam is hedging its bets by dangling the threat of joining a common legal front against China as a form of deterrence against further provocations in the future.With both the Philippines and the US explicitly questioning China's expansive claims in recent months, Vietnam perhaps felt compelled to reiterate its position on the issue and underline its right to resort to existing international legal instruments to address potentially explosive territorial disputes.

A Pyrrhic War?

Nonetheless, despite the unanimity of opinion and statements by Filipino, Vietnamese and American officials on the legal dimensions of China's claims in the South China Sea, it is far from clear whether Beijing will re-consider its policy in adjacent waters.

Ultimately, China could respond to growing international pressure by hardening its position. It can accelerate efforts at consolidating its claims on the ground, vehemently reject any unfavorable arbitration outcome as an affront to its national integrity, and impose sanctions on and/or diplomatically isolate the Philippines as a form of reprisal. After all, there are no existing compliance-enforcement mechanisms to compel China to act contrary to its position and interests.

Beyond sovereignty claims, the very credibility of international law is also at stake. As Columbia University Professor Matthew C. Waxman succintly puts it, "For the UNCLOS system -- as a body of rules and binding dispute settlement mechanisms -- prominence and credibility are at stake. A decision that the arbitral panel has jurisdiction," could put the arbitration body at the risk of "being ignored, derided and marginalized by the biggest player in the region." In the end, there may be no clear winners.

An original version of this piece was printed on the Straits Times.

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