Chinese diplomat elected member of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)

Since the establishment of the tribunal in 1996, three Chinese have served as judges.
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Official photo of Duan Jielong, the Chinese ambassador to Hungary. (Photo: Chinese Embassy in Hungary)

The Chinese ambassador to Hungary, Duan Jielong, was elected a member of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on Monday.

Since the establishment of the tribunal in 1996, three Chinese have served as judges: Zhao Lihai (1996-2000), Xu Guangjian (2001-2007), and Gao Zhiguo (2008-2020), cited by Xinhua News.

Speaking on the 10th annual South China Sea Conference held by Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), US Assistant Secretary of State David R. Stilwell urged nations against voting for the Chinese delegate, Taiwan news reported.

"On the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea: Beijing is running an uncontested candidate for a judge’s position on this tribunal at an election currently slated for late August/early September.

Like the Arbitral Tribunal that ruled against Beijing in 2016, the International Tribunal is established under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Electing a PRC official to this body is like hiring an arsonist to help run the Fire Department.

"We urge all countries involved in the upcoming International Tribunal election to carefully assess the credentials of the PRC candidate and consider whether a PRC judge on the Tribunal will help or hinder international maritime law. Given Beijing’s record, the answer should be clear.", according to the U.S Department of State.

By Beijing's record, he referred to China's aggressiveness on the Bien Dong Sea (South China Sea). He emphasized the Arbitral Tribunal that ruled in favor of the Philippine petition to invalidate China’s outrageous “nine-dashed-line” claim in the South China Sea on July 12, 2016.

Since the 2016 Arbitral ruling came out, he said China has tried to delegitimize and ignore the verdict, despite its obligations to abide by it as a party to the UNCLOS. Both the Philippines and China are signatories to UNCLOS, which is considered as a “Constitution for the Oceans" cited by the Philippines' Manila Bulletin.

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Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David R. Stilwell gave a speech in CSIS (Photo: CSIS)

Experts from other institutes also supported Stilwell's statement. Jonathan Odom, an American professor, and US Navy judge advocate, also serves as a military professor of international law at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany said:

“This upcoming judicial election for ITLOS presents the international community of nations with a valuable opportunity. These 167 states have a lawful, peaceful, and correlated way to uphold the international rule of law: By not casting a vote for China’s nominee to ITLOS — and voting for seven of the other nominees instead”.

Odom argued that by voting for other candidates other than China, “it would send a message to China’s government that objectionable behavior can damage its standing in the international community of nations.”

Chines delegate Duan Jielong was among six to have been elected in the first round of voting by the States Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The other five were David J. Attard of Malta, Ida Caracciolo of Italy, Maria Teresa Infante Caffi of Chile, Maurice Kengne Kamga of Cameroon, and Markiyan Kulyk of Ukraine.

One seat remains to be filled and the second round of restrictive voting will be held on Tuesday. The contenders will be Kathy-Ann Brown of Jamaica and Rodrigo Fernandes More of Brazil.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is an independent judicial body established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention. The Tribunal is composed of 21 independent members, elected from among persons enjoying the highest reputation for fairness and integrity and of recognized competence in the field of the law of the sea.

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