China's position paper on South China Sea
Updated: 2014-12-07 10:20
V. China' s right to freely choose the means of dispute settlement must be fully respected, and its rejection of and non-participation in the present arbitration is solidly grounded in international law
76. Under international law, every State is free to choose the means of dispute settlement. The jurisdiction of any international judicial or arbitral body over an inter-State dispute depends on the prior consent of the parties to the dispute. This is known as the principle of consent in international law. It was on the basis of this principle that the States participating in the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea reached, after extended and arduous negotiations, a compromise on Part XV relating to dispute settlement as a package deal.
77. The compulsory dispute settlement procedures provided in Part XV of the Convention apply only to disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention. States Parties are entitled to freely choose the means of settlement other than those set out in Part XV. Articles 297 and 298 of the Convention, moreover, provide for limitations on and optional exceptions to the applicability of the compulsory procedures with regard to specified categories of disputes.
78. The balance embodied in the provisions of Part XV has been a critical factor for the decision of many States to become parties to the Convention. At the second session of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Ambassador Reynaldo Galindo Pohl of El Salvador, co-chair of the informal group on the settlement of disputes, on introducing the first general draft on dispute settlement, emphasized the need for exceptions from compulsory jurisdiction with respect to questions directly related to the territorial integrity of States. Otherwise, as has been noted, "a number of States might have been dissuaded from ratifying the Convention or even signing it" (Shabtai Rosenne and Louis B. Sohn (eds.), United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982: A Commentary, 1989, vol. v, p. 88, para. 297.1). It follows that the provisions of Part XV must be interpreted and applied in such a manner so as to preserve the balance in and the integrity of Part XV.
79. China highly values the positive role played by the compulsory dispute settlement procedures of the Convention in upholding the international legal order for the oceans. As a State Party to the Convention, China has accepted the provisions of section 2 of Part XV on compulsory dispute settlement procedures. But that acceptance does not mean that those procedures apply to disputes of territorial sovereignty, or disputes which China has agreed with other States Parties to settle by means of their own choice, or disputes already excluded by Article 297 and China' s 2006 declaration filed under Article 298. With regard to the Philippines' claims for arbitration, China has never accepted any of the compulsory procedures of section 2 of Part XV.
80. By virtue of the principle of sovereignty, parties to a dispute may choose the means of settlement of their own accord. This has been affirmed by the Convention. Article 280 provides that, "Nothing in this Part impairs the right of any States Parties to agree at any time to settle a dispute between them concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention by any peaceful means of their own choice."
81. The means thus chosen by the States Parties to the Convention takes priority over the compulsory procedures set forth in section 2 of Part XV. Article 281(1) of section 1 of Part XV provides that, "If the States Parties which are parties to a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention have agreed to seek settlement of the dispute by a peaceful means of their own choice, the procedures provided for in this Part apply only where no settlement has been reached by recourse to such means and the agreement between the parties does not exclude any further procedure." Article 286 states that, "Subject to section 3, any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention shall, where no settlement has been reached by recourse to section 1, be submitted at the request of any party to the dispute to the court or tribunal having jurisdiction under this section." Accordingly, where parties to a dispute have already chosen a means of settlement and excluded other procedures, the compulsory procedures of the Convention shall not apply to the dispute in question.
82. The priority and significance of the means of dispute settlement chosen by States Parties to the Convention have been further affirmed in the arbitral award in the Southern Bluefin Tuna Case. The tribunal recognized that the Convention "falls significantly short of establishing a truly comprehensive regime of compulsory jurisdiction entailing binding decisions" , and that "States Parties ... are permitted by Article 281(1) to confine the applicability of compulsory procedures of section 2 of Part XV to cases where all parties to the dispute have agreed upon submission of their dispute to such compulsory procedures" (Australia and New Zealand v. Japan, pp. 102-103, para. 62). Were the provisions of section 1 of Part XV not complied with faithfully, it would result in deprivation of the right of the States Parties to freely choose means of peaceful settlement based on State sovereignty. That would entail a breach of the principle of consent and upset the balance in and integrity of Part XV.
83. In exercise of its power to decide on its jurisdiction, any judicial or arbitral body should respect the right of the States Parties to the Convention to freely choose the means of settlement. Article 288(4) of the Convention provides that "[i]n the event of a dispute as to whether a court or tribunal has jurisdiction, the matter shall be settled by decision of that court or tribunal" . China respects that competence of judicial or arbitral bodies under the Convention. Equally important, China would like to emphasize, the exercise of judicial or arbitral power shall not derogate from the right of the States Parties to choose the means of settlement of their own accord, or from the principle of consent which must be followed in international adjudication and arbitration. China holds that this is the constraint that the Arbitral Tribunal must abide by when considering whether or not to apply Article 288(4) in determining its jurisdiction in the present arbitration. After all, "the parties to the dispute are complete masters of the procedure to be used to settle it" (Shabtai Rosenne and Louis B. Sohn (eds.), United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982: A Commentary, 1989, vol. v, p. 20, para. 280.1).
84. China respects the right of all States Parties to invoke the compulsory procedures in accordance with the Convention. At the same time, it would call attention to Article 300 of the Convention, which provides that, "States Parties shall fulfil in good faith the obligations assumed under this Convention and shall exercise the rights, jurisdiction and freedoms recognized in this Convention in a manner which would not constitute an abuse of right." While being fully aware that its claims essentially deal with territorial sovereignty, that China has never accepted any compulsory procedures in respect of those claims, and that there has been an agreement existing between the two States to settle their relevant disputes by negotiations, the Philippines has nevertheless initiated, by unilateral action, the present arbitration. This surely contravenes the relevant provisions of the Convention, and does no service to the peaceful settlement of the disputes.
85. In view of what is stated above and in light of the manifest lack of jurisdiction on the part of the Arbitral Tribunal, the Chinese Government has decided not to accept or participate in the present arbitration, in order to preserve China' s sovereign right to choose the means of peaceful settlement of its own free will and the effectiveness of its 2006 declaration, and to maintain the integrity of Part XV of the Convention as well as the authority and solemnity of the international legal regime for the oceans. This position of China will not change.