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Navigating through the proper channels

Article - June 11, 2013
The Philippines has decided to take China to a UN arbitral tribunal to resolve a territorial dispute in the South China Sea, a move that many countries unbiasedly support
The South China Sea has been a certain bone of contention between the Philippines, China and their ASEAN neighbors for a number of decades. The reason for the territorial dispute is simple: much of the trade between Europe, the Middle East and Asia passes through these waters, acting as a crucial international shipping lane.
Perhaps more importantly, there are thought to be vast oil and natural gas reserves in the area which are primed for economic development, chiefly explaining why this particular maritime boundary is so hotly contested.
Scarborough Shoal – little more than 100 miles from the Philippines and 500 miles from China – is the stretch of reef which the two countries lay overlapping claims to. Now, after years of attempting to resolve the issue diplomatically, the Philippines has decided to take China to a UN tribunal in an effort to settle things once and for all.
Despite China’s refusal to take part in the proceedings, Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., believes their failure to reach an agreement identifies a legal route as the only way forward. 
“We have of course made it clear to China, as well as the U.S., that this arbitration is a peaceful means of settling the dispute” says Mr. Cuisia.
“The tribunal should be able to settle issues that will clarify not just our own territory, but also the territorial boundaries of other countries, using the UN Law of the Sea as the Basis.”
While the Philippines and the ASEAN nations are simultaneously pushing for a code of conduct, which they hope will likewise help put an end to the numerous disputes in the South China Sea that have long hampered multilateral relations in the region, the U.S. has also expressed its support for UN involvement, although wishing to remain neutral with regard to any particular country’s claims.
Aside to their encouragement for a quick and lawful resolution to the Philippines-China situation, the United States’ pivot to Asia, a strategy to strengthen U.S. military partnerships throughout the Indo-Pacific region, has led to a big improvement in relations with the Philippines in the areas of defense, and beyond.
“The relations between the U.S. and the Philippines have never been better than they are today,” remarks Ambassador Cuisia. We of course stand to benefit [from the pivot] in that we are a treaty ally of the U.S. and have a strong military and security alliance.”  
With the announcement that 60% of the U.S. Navy Fleet will be deployed to Asia by 2020, the significant number of extra troops is expected to bring broad benefits to the Philippines, not just in strengthening naval capabilities, but boosting the country’s economy as a whole.