WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today announced that he has called on governments around the world to respect and abide by the decision of the Arbitral Tribunal related to China’s claims in the South China Sea.  In a letter sent to more than 100 capitals around the world, Rep. Engel underscored the importance of upholding international law and ensuring that all countries play by the same rules.

“While the United States does not take a position on the claims made by various parties, we call on all countries to respect the Tribunal’s decision and to uphold the integrity of international law. I urge your government to clearly state your support, along with the majority of the international community, for the Tribunal’s proceedings as legitimate and binding under international law,” wrote Rep. Engel.

Full text of the letter follows.

As you know, an Arbitral Tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) will soon issue a ruling in the case of The Philippines vs. China, which is the most significant case to be considered by the body to date. While the Tribunal’s ruling will not resolve the sovereignty questions in the dispute, it will provide an opportunity to defuse long standing tensions and most importantly, to promote adherence to an international order based on the rule of law. The ultimate value of the decision taken by the Arbitral Tribunal in Manila’s case against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea will depend on countries around the world recognizing the decision as legally binding under international law. I am not aware that your government has made a public statement regarding the legitimacy of the Tribunal’s proceedings or whether their outcome is binding under international law.

While the United States does not take a position on the claims made by various parties, we call on all countries to respect the Tribunal’s decision and to uphold the integrity of international law. I urge your government to clearly state your support, along with the majority of the international community, for the Tribunal’s proceedings as legitimate and binding under international law.

The Tribunal has followed the process laid out in Annex VII of UNCLOS, and carefully considered each of China’s objections before deciding on its jurisdiction. Under Article 288 of the Convention, the ruling, which addresses “the interpretation or application” of UNCLOS, will be legally binding on the Philippines and China, as well as all parties to the Convention. China claims that the arbitration process is illegitimate despite the fact that it agreed to these mechanisms when it ratified the convention in 1996. China has stated that it does not intend to abide by any ruling issued by the tribunal. However, such a decision by China will not release it from its obligation to comply with a decision rendered in the Philippines vs. China case, nor would it necessarily protect China from future cases brought by other claimants.  

As members of the international community, we all have a responsibility to respect the laws that we have collectively agreed to uphold.  None of us should want to live in a world where countries contravene international law when it suits them. China’s intention not to abide by the Tribunal’s ruling threatens not only stability in the Asia-Pacific region but the rules-based order from which all nations benefit.

The effects of this ruling are not just relevant to Asia but will reverberate throughout the region and the world. It is my hope that your government will be among the voices calling for all parties to respect and abide by the Tribunal’s decision which is binding under international law. 

Respectfully,

ELIOT L. ENGEL

Ranking Member

House Committee on Foreign Affairs

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