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China nominates candidate for international maritime disputes tribunal

Tribunal planning to hold election in August or September to pick seven judges for nine-year term

Judge's gavel (Pixabay photo)

Judge's gavel (Pixabay photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China has nominated a candidate for a judge on an international tribunal that deals with maritime disputes, a move that the U.S. is looking to block citing Beijing’s failure to recognize international maritime laws in the South China Sea.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) is a 21-member independent judicial body that was set up by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to adjudicate disputes over the interpretation and application of the agreement. UNCLOS is an international treaty that outlines national rights and responsibilities in the world’s oceans.

The tribunal is planning to hold an election this month or September to pick seven judges to serve a nine-year term, as the terms of a third of the members expire every three years. All 168 signatories of the UNCLOS will cast their votes; however, the U.S. will be excluded from voting as it has not ratified the convention.

China currently has one judge — Gao Zhiguo (高之國) — on the tribunal, but his term ends in September, which is why Beijing has selected Duan Jielong (段洁龙) as a candidate. Nine countries, including China, have nominated candidates for the upcoming election.

While the U.S. will not be voting, that has not stopped Washington from opposing Beijing’s selection. “Electing a PRC official to this body is like hiring an arsonist to help run the Fire Department,” said David Stillwell, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) online forum last month.

“We urge all countries involved in the upcoming International Tribunal election to carefully assess the credentials of the PRC 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,” Stillwell added.

In 2016, a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration dismissed China’s claim that it has sovereignty over nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea as having no merit according to UNCLOS principles, CNBC reported. Beijing refused to accept or recognize the ruling.

The area claimed by China encompasses about 3.6 million square kilometers and is based on a vague nine-dash line map that was dismissed by the 2016 tribunal ruling. Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei also claim ownership over parts of the disputed South China Sea.

According to the UNCLOS, coastal states have sovereign rights to resources within 200 nautical miles of their shores and are allowed to carry out certain economic activities and maritime research within that area, per CNBC. Beijing’s nine-dash line extends far beyond 200 nautical miles from China’s coast.