American Lawyer to face illegal China in behalf of the Philippines, Vietnam, Borneo ‘till 2014

Lawyer Paul Reichler points to the area in dispute on a map of South China Sea in his office in Washington, D.C [Melissa Golden for The Wall Street Journal]

Philippines Takes China's Sea Claims to Court

A Washington Lawyer Helps Manila Challenge Beijing's Sea Claims

Paul Reichler, a Washington-based lawyer, has spent much of his career representing small countries against big ones: Nicaragua versus the U.S.; Georgia versus Russia; Mauritius versus the U.K., Bangladesh versus India.

His first big victory made headlines in the 1980s when the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that U.S. support for Contra rebels trying to overthrow the left-wing Sandinista government of Nicaragua violated international law.

That's one reason to pay attention to the case he launched this year at a United Nations arbitration body: the Philippines versus China.

Lawyer Paul Reichler, who specializes in international public law, is taking China to court on behalf of the Philippines over a dispute in the South China Sea.  [Melissa Golden for The Wall Street Journal]

Mr. Reichler is the lead lawyer representing Manila in its legal challenge against China's claim to almost all of the South China Sea, signified by the "nine-dash line"-a U-shaped protrusion on Chinese maps that brushes the coastlines of smaller states, including the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Philippines brought the case in January under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which governs the world's oceans. China is a signatory. The heart of the case is that the line has no basis under the U.N. convention, which states that coastal states are entitled to a territorial sea extending 12 nautical miles as well as a 200-mile economic exclusion zone in which they have rights to fish and extract undersea resources.

"Of course we're aware of the enormity of taking on a country like China. We'd be foolish not to" be aware, says Mr. Reichler, a litigator with the U.S. law firm Foley Hoag.

The Arbitral Tribunal has appointed a five-person panel of judges and issued a timetable for handling the case, including a deadline for the Philippines to submit its evidence by March 30 next year.

It's the first time that Beijing has been taken to a U.N. tribunal and China is furious. Most recently, it showed its displeasure by making clear that Philippine President Benigno Aquino III wouldn't be welcome at a trade event in southern China in August. The Chinese Foreign Ministry didn't respond to requests for comment on the arbitration action. But Beijing has said it will ignore the legal proceedings, without giving any reasons.

China insists that territorial disputes over islands in the South China Sea should be settled through bilateral negotiation under its frequently stated principle of "shelving disputes and going in for joint development." The sea contains potentially vast reserves of oil and natural gas. In addition, Beijing maintains that the nine-dash line presents no obstacle to freedom of navigation in a stretch of water that carries a third of global trade—a major U.S. concern.

Beijing's refusal to participate hasn't stopped the case going ahead. It could even speed its resolution: Mr. Reichler says that if China doesn't take part, the case could wrap up by the end of 2014. Such cases can otherwise drag on for up to five years.

To some skeptics, Manila's challenge is quixotic. Even if the tribunal decides it has jurisdiction over the case, and then finds in Manila's favor, Beijing could simply ignore the verdict.

Yet there are more than legal considerations at stake. The case is also significant for what it will signify about the way that China views the world.

China's self-image is wrapped up in its own sense of victimhood at the hands of imperialist powers led by Britain starting in the mid-19th century. That, in turn, has driven a Chinese foreign policy that professes to treat all countries equally, large or small, rich or poor.

But now that China is a global player, and dominates its own backyard, neighbors are asking anxious questions. Will it seek to work within existing international laws, or try to bend them to suit its purposes? As it acquires a blue-water navy to project power far from its own shores, will it be more tempted to use force to settle territorial disputes? And how will it treat smaller countries, like the Philippines, that feel bullied by China's growing military might?

Mr. Reichler is counting on international opinion to sway China's response toward any judgment that doesn't go China's way. "It's a terrible blow to a state's prestige to defy a tribunal's decision," he says.

From the Philippines' point of view, legal action was the last option after diplomacy failed. China wouldn't budge from its claim to "indisputable sovereignty" over the whole sea, say officials in Manila, and it was steadily encroaching on Philippine territory. Last year, Chinese ships fenced off the Scarborough Shoal, a fishermen's haven just west of Manila. China says the Philippines navy was harassing Chinese fishermen.

Manila conducted a global search for legal counsel before settling on Mr. Reichler. "We wanted the best," says one high-placed Philippine official.

China uses history to support its claims to the South China Sea and all its land features. These date back to its own imperial days centuries ago, when China treated its neighbors as mere vassals. However, the nine-dash line itself was first published on a map in 1947 by the Chinese Kuomintang government, and the Communists inherited it after the civil war that brought the Communists, led by Chairman Mao, to power.

The line extends almost to Indonesia, some 900 miles from China's southernmost territory, Hainan Island. Such a far-reaching claim has no parallel anywhere in the world.

As for the islands, rocks and reefs that fall within the line, Mr. Reichler makes a technical argument in the Philippines' case. The convention rules that a habitable island is entitled to a 200-mile economic exclusion zone. A rock that juts out of the sea gets 12 miles. A semisubmerged reef gets nothing.

Mr. Reichler's argument is that all the sea features that the Philippines disputes with China are either rocks or reefs. And, therefore, even if China owns them, it has only limited rights to the surrounding resources.

His legal team is pulling together a massive document to support that contention consisting of aerial photographs, naval charts, hydrology reports and geographical findings. "I'm not in a position to say how China will react," he says. "My job is to say [to the Philippines]: 'This is a good case for you to win or not.'"

Write to Andrew Browne at

Wall Street Journa

Share on Google Plus

About Webber

I am among of the writers and administrators of this web site. I always on the heads up when it comes to Sports, Politics, Economy, Business, Physics, Mathematics, Technology, computers and NEWS all over the world that triggers ny eyes and interests. I am working as a volunteer with other 14 administrators, researchers, writers and contributors. We are a strong solid team. Join us and be among of the contributor with your name on each posted article.

    Anonymous or Google Comment
    Facebook Comment



Investment Recommendation: Bitcoin Investments

Live trading with Bitcoin through ETORO Trading platform would allow you to grow your $100 to $1,000 Dollars or more in just a day. Just learn how to trade and enjoy the windfall of profits. Take note, Bitcoin is more expensive than Gold now.

Where to buy Bitcoins?

For Philippine customers: You could buy Bitcoin Online at
For outside the Philippines customers  may buy Bitcoins online at