Lawfare in the South China Sea

by Chris Zappone

It’s interesting that China has sent its own documents supporting its claim on the waters off the coast of Vietnam to the UN. On the surface, this would slow any judgement to be made at a UN-linked organization over China’s activities in the South China Sea.

But the idea of standing up competing claims in an international tribunal which could produce a binding result is a clear victory for the West, even if a court rules in favor of China. That’s because it relies on the rule by law rather than deference to a power, which seems to be the Chinese preference.

Alternatively, the use of courts by claimants like Vietnam and the Philippines can be see as a slow construction of a case against China. That could be a useful precedent in the future as the world potentially struggles to accommodate the kind of claim China desires.