Senkaku island dispute shows the ineffectiveness of ITLOS tribunal at resolving issues
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The Treaty’s ineffectiveness was exemplified by events in the South China Sea in September 2012. China deployed six surveillance ships in response to the Japanese government’s attempt to buy the disputed Senkaku islands (which the Chinese call the Daioyus) from their current owner, a wealthy Japanese family.20 Both countries are signatories to LOST, which was supposed to settle disputes over maritime boundaries by creating the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
The Tribunal has so far largely failed to settle such disputes. The Senkaku/Daioyus dispute is not the first case brought before the Tribunal, whose approach seems to be to let countries talk among themselves until they reach a solution. The court established to settle disputes has repeatedly abdicated its responsibility, while continuing to claim jurisdiction. Frustration with this process has led at least one party to return to gunboat diplomacy. Despite filing a lawsuit with the Tribunal, China appears to be dissatisfied with a legalistic approach. China Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Hong Lei stated, “Isn’t it a weird thing in international affairs to submit a sovereign country’s territory to international arbitration? What a chaos the world will be in if this happens?”21
Virtually all the cases thus far have involved impounding fishing vessels, but the Tribunal has not actually finally settled any serious international dispute; thus, regardless of the merits of the case, China’s frustration is not surprising. Where it has acted, the Tribunal has essentially told the parties to sort the issues out amongst themselves — as in the Southern Bluefin Tuna case examined below.