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Japan wary of shelving international court’s decision on South China Sea

The Japanese government is growing wary that a recent deal clinched by the leaders of China and the Philippines to shelve their territorial conflict on the South China Sea could end up putting the international court’s ruling on the back burner. Japan plans to urge the Philippines to respect the court decision as a concerned party and will seek to find ways to continue to work closely with the Southeast Asian country on China’s advances into the South China Sea.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stressed in a press conference on Oct. 21: “The ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) is a final and legally-binding decision for the parties concerned so they need to comply with it.” In July, the international tribunal turned down China’s territorial claim over the South China Sea. Since then, the Japanese government has been urging China to accept it.


A ruling by the international arbitration court is only binding for the parties concerned. Japan’s claim over the court decision has no bearing on procedures under international law, which means that it is effectively not in a position to engage in bilateral consultations between the Philippines and China. If it tries to settle the issue despite the ruling, the “rule of law” principle, which Prime Minister Abe advocates, would collapse and could give momentum to China’s maritime aggression.


“This will be a good opportunity for Abe to demonstrate his [diplomatic] skills,” said a senior government official, expressing expectations for Abe to work on pro-Japan Duterte when he meets with the Philippine leader next week.


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