US State Dep’t exec urges nations to assess Chinese bet running for ITLOS seat

Published July 15, 2020, 2:12 PM

by Roy Mabasa

A ranking US State Department official has urged all the 167 countries, including the Philippines, to “carefully assess” the credentials of the Chinese candidate gunning for one of the seven seats in the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), a judicial body established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell (AFP / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

 “We urge all countries involved in the upcoming International Tribunal election to carefully assess the credentials of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) candidate and consider whether a PRC judge on the Tribunal will help or hinder international maritime law. Given Beijing’s record, the answer should be clear,” David Stilwell, US Assistant State Secretary for Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in a statement on Wednesday (Manila time).

Beijing is fielding current ambassador to Hungary Jielong Duan for one of the seven seats in the ITLOS election slated to take place in late August or early September.

“Like the Arbitral Tribunal that ruled against Beijing in 2016, the International Tribunal is established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Electing a PRC official to this body is like hiring an arsonist to help run the Fire Department,” Stilwell said.

Stilwell was referring to the Arbitral Tribunal that ruled in favor of the Philippine petition to invalidate China’s outrageous “nine-dashed-line” claim in the South China Sea on July 12, 2016.

Since the 2016 Arbitral ruling came out, he said China has tried to delegitimize and ignore the verdict, despite its obligations to abide by it as a party to the UNCLOS. Both the Philippines and China are signatories to UNCLOS, which is considered as a “Constitution for the Oceans.”

 “Beijing likes to present itself as a champion of multilateralism and international institutions, but it has dismissed the verdict as nothing more than a piece of paper,” he added.

Like the Arbitral Tribunal that handed the Award to the Philippines on its South China Sea petition, ITLOS is an independent judicial body established by UNCLOS to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention. It is composed of 21 independent members, elected from among persons with the highest reputation for fairness and integrity and of recognized competence in the field of the law of the sea.

The 167 state parties to the UNCLOS will hold their 30th annual meeting where they will, at the same time, elect one-third of the 21-seat judges on ITLOS.

An in-depth blog written by American professor and US Navy judge advocate Jonathan Odom in June 2020 said the coming ITLOS election provides the opportunity for the international community to “show its support for the international rules-based order and demonstrate its objection to a member who has disregarded it.”

“This upcoming judicial election for ITLOS presents the international community of nations with a valuable opportunity. These 167 states have a lawful, peaceful, and correlated way to uphold the international rule of law: By not casting a vote for China’s nominee to ITLOS — and voting for seven of the other nominees instead,” said Odom who also serves as a military professor of international law at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany.

Odom argued that by voting for other candidates other than China, “it would send a message to China’s government that objectionable behavior can damage its standing in the international community of nations.”

Aside from Duan, the other nominees are David J. Attard (Malta), Kathy-Ann Brown (Jamaica), Ida Caracciolo (Italy), Maria Teresa Caffi Infante (Chile), Maurice K. Kamga (Cameroon), Maryikan Kulyk (Ukraine), Carlos Alberto Prates Mata (Uruguay), Rodrigo Fernandes More (Brazil), and Happias Zhou (Zimbabwe).