Dispute settlement in the Law of the Sea Convention and territorial and maritime disputes in Southeast Asia: issues, opportunities and challenges
The UNCLOS provides for a dispute settlement mechanism that establishes a compulsory and binding framework for the peaceful settlement of all ocean- related disputes, including territorial and maritime disputes. The UNCLOS clearly creates an obligation among claimant countries to settle their conflicting claims peacefully, using any of forums specified under the UN Charter and the Convention itself. However, since the dispute settlement mechanism within the framework of UNCLOS operates on the basis of the sovereign equality of states, the submission of a dispute to such a forum depends on the willingness of the parties. In the case of Southeast Asia, despite the longstanding myriad of territorial and maritime disputes , there appears to be a general reluctance to utilize the dispute settlement provisions of UNCLOS. The states in Southeast Asia have very little experience in litigation at the international level with regard to the settlement of territorial and maritime disputes and a general reluctance to utilize the dispute settlement provisions of UNCLOS. Moreover, while the legal framework under the UNCLOS offers some options, the highly complicated nature of the disputes in the Southeast Asian region especially those pertaining to the overlapping and conflicting claims over the South China Sea, test the limits of international law and obscure the possibility of a legal solution. Moreover , the cultural aversion of Asians against a judicial settlement, where there are victors and losers, almost renders this option illusory.