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SIIA Chairman Simon Tay interviewed on Insight (Channel NewsAsia) on South China Sea


14 Jul SIIA Chairman Simon Tay interviewed on Insight (Channel NewsAsia) on South China Sea

SIIA Chairman Simon Tay was interviewed on Insight, a programme on topical issues on Channel NewsAsia, about the ruling by a panel at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on China’s claims in the South China Sea. The episode aired on 14 July 2016, shortly after the ruling.

Channel NewsAsia asked Prof Tay and other experts about the significance of the ruling and whether it will put an end to the fractious dispute between China and the Philippines. Prof Tay’s comments are excerpted below. The full programme can also be viewed online at

On the court’s ruling

Prof Tay: So one of the issues is whether or not these are really islands which can be inhabited by human beings and sustain life, or if they are just rocks and islets. And there’s a big legal difference because in the case of an island which is habitable by human beings, they can claim an economic zone of 200 nautical miles, exclusively. Whereas these rocks and islets at the most claim adjacent waters, or a territorial stretch of about 12 miles. So this would help sort out whether the whole of the South China Sea belongs to whoever owns these islands or rocks or simply the rocks themselves and some of the waters around them.

Can the ruling be enforced?

Prof Tay: The court has no mechanism to really enforce its decision, and China is not actually appearing in front of the court. In fact it has said it will ignore the decision. The international court, unlike a national court in Singapore and most countries, doesn’t have a police force. It doesn’t have that mandatory enforcement power.

Implications for the US

Prof Tay: We have to see what America does. But it is my hope that America will also have to be cautious, rather than overplay its hand. And of course we are in the last months of the Obama Administration. So the US pivot has always said that it does regard Asia in totality, not only about South China Sea, not only about security, but really for the benefit of all in economics and other cooperation. Let’s hope the Americans would respond well if China and the Philippines can really take a positive step forward.

Prospects for compromise

Prof Tay: There’s almost no doubt that territorial integrity is one of the preoccupations of China, and since these claims have been in children’s books since primary school, I would say that neither side can fully negotiate the claims away. But I think a reasonable compromise can be achieved, where both sides can say ‘I won’.