The arbitral award in 2016 has had a positive impact on the credibility of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian claimant countries in the South China Sea. However, questions about China’s divisive influence in the neighbourhood remain more relevant than ever and necessitate inquiry into the use and utility of dialogue on non-traditional security (NTS) issues in building confidence in times of low confidence, with specific reference to the period of the arbitration process and ruling.
For example on 14 March2005the Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation the Philippine National Oil Company and the China National Offshore Corporation signed the Tripartite Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in the Agreement Area in the South China Sea. This agreement was in line with UNCLOS and was endorsed by all three participating governments for a period of three years. Despite signatory status to this and to various multilateral treaties China has regularly disrespected international law. By mid-2011 levels of confrontation at sea between Vietnamese and Chinese vessels had worsened. In particular this was the case in May 2011 after the Vietnamese claimed that the Tripartite Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in the Agreement Area in the South China Sea had been breached by Chinese vessels which cut the cables of the Vietnamese Oil and Gas Corporation exploration. This incident the incident of the Viking II and other incidents in 2011 were among the major confrontations in the South China Sea severing Vietnam’s relations with China. Some such as Barry Wain in 2008 (Wain Barry. ‘Manila’s bungle in the South China Sea’. Far Eastern Economic Review 171 (1) (January/February 2008): 45–48) have gone further making the criticism that the signing of this agreement itself has hardly been to the advantage of Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. Essentially he suggested that Vietnam’s inclusion in the agreement was hardly a victory for consensus-building and restraint because Vietnam was under pressure to sign given that the Philippines had already made arrangements on this matter with China separately and hence at the expense of the collective bargaining power of the two ASEAN states.