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China, Philippines send ships to disputed island. What if they sent lawyers?

Both China and the Philippines have legal grounds for its claim on the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Here's how the arguments shape up.

A combination photo shows two Chinese surveillance ships which sailed between a Philippine warship and eight Chinese fishing boats to prevent the arrest of any fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal, a small group of rocky formations whose sovereignty is contested by the Philippines and China, in the South China Sea on April 10.

Courtesy of Philippine Navy/Reuters

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The Philippines and China are holding their ground in a tense dispute over Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, as the Chinese sent a third ship to the region today and the Philippines sent a coast guard ship to replace their flagship as it refueled. But a peaceful resolution to the impasse is still being sought.

One of the ways out may be taking the dispute to an international tribunal or the International Court of Justice. But international law may not be able to provide an obvious resolution, as each side has grounds for its claim on the island.

Philippines officials have said that their case under international law would be based on the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Both China and the Philippines are signatories to the Convention, which is a treaty between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China that states how disputes in the South China Sea will be dealt with. The key clause here is the fourth, which reads:


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