Rising tensions in the South China Sea have cast a pall over many actors and issues, but not international law. Indeed, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its mandatory dispute settlement mechanisms are arguably at the zenith of their popularity. Some believe that the U.S. Senate may soon finally ratify a treaty that has been adhered to by both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Perversely, the Obama administration’s focus on international law — with the arbitration ruling likely to be handed down shortly— may be badly undercut depending on how China reacts and behaves. Ideally, China would find in the ruling a diplomatic off ramp to avoid a clash at sea and promote new joint development of maritime resources.
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