MANILA – A United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal is set to conduct a hearing in July 2015 to decide whether it has jurisdiction on the case submitted by Manila against Beijing regarding the disputed South China Sea.
The arbitral tribunal at Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), based in The Hague, The Netherlands, noted that while China has refused to participate in the proceedings, it will consider the latter's communications, including its position paper, ''as constituting a plea concerning the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction."
''The Arbitral Tribunal will conduct a hearing in July 2015 to address the objections to jurisdiction set out in China’s Position Paper. The Arbitral Tribunal will also consider other matters concerning its jurisdiction and the admissibility of the Philippines’ claims,'' the tribunal said.
China's position paper, released in December 2014 just before the deadline set by the tribunal for China to file its counter-memorial, challenged the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal in hearing the case.
Beijing, however, clarified that the paper shall not be regarded as China's acceptance of or its participation in the arbitration.
China's non-participation in the process will not bar the tribunal from coming up with a decision.
The Philippines earlier filed a 4,000-page ''memorial'' which seeks to invalidate China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.
The Philippines is also asking the arbitral tribunal to declare the features in the disputed sea as ''rocks'' and not islands. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), to which the Philippines and China are both signatories, rocks do not generate maritime entitlement beyond 12 miles.
The Philippines insists that a portion of the maritime territory being claimed by China sits within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
After noting that China missed its deadline for filing its counter-memorial, the tribunal requested further written argument from the Philippines on certain issues it raised in its memorial.
The Philippines submitted its 3,000-page supplemental written submission last March 16. The tribunal said China has been asked to comment on this by June 16, 2015.
''After receiving any comments that China may make by 16 June 2015 with respect to the Philippines’ Supplemental Written Submission, the Arbitral Tribunal may also pose further questions to the Parties to be addressed in the course of the July hearing,'' the tribunal said.
''If, after the July hearing, the Tribunal determines that there are jurisdictional objections that do not possess an exclusively preliminary character, then, in accordance with Article 20(3) of the Rules of Procedure, such pleas will be reserved for consideration and decision at a later stage of the proceedings."
Article 20(3) of the Rules of Procedures reads: ''The Arbitral Tribunal shall rule on any plea concerning its jurisdiction as a preliminary question, unless the Arbitral Tribunal determines, after seeking the views of the Parties, that the objection to its jurisdiction does not possess an exclusively preliminary character, in which case it shall rule on such a plea in conjunction with the merits."
The five-member arbitral tribunal is chaired by Judge Thomas A. Mensah of Ghana. The other members are Judge Jean-Pierre Cot of France, Judge Stanislaw Pawlak of Poland, Professor Alfred Soons of the Netherlands, and Judge Rüdiger Wolfrum of Germany.
The Philippines is represented in the case by Paul Reichler.