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Thayer Consultancy Background Brief:

ABN # 65 648 097 123

Carlyle A. Thayer
Chinese Judge Elected to the
International Tribunal for
the Law of the Sea
August 26, 2020
We have just received the news that Duan Jielong, a Chinese national, was elected a
judge on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) for a nine-year
term. The United States opposed his nomination. What is your assessment of Duan’s
election to ITLOS?
ANSWER: The United States is not a state party to the United Nations Convention on
the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and therefore was not eligible to vote on Duan Jielong’s
nomination. Duan received 149 votes out of 168 voters or nearly 89 percent. The fact
that the United States was unsuccessful in opposing Duan’s nomination is a blow to
its prestige.
Duan’s election reveals that China is able to wield considerable influence on the world
stage. This is remarkable considering that China refused to accept the ruling of the
Arbitral Tribunal set up under ANNEX VII of UNCLOS in the case brought by the
Philippines against China.
Duan will not be eligible to hear any cases involving China but he could be called upon
to take part in legal proceedings involving ASEAN member states.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, stated, “I believe the judges-
elect will do their duty justly and contribute to the court…” This is a duplicitous
statement given China’s character assassination of judges named to the Arbitral
Tribunal four years ago. China accused a Sri Lankan judge of bias because he was
married to a Filipina. The Sri Lankan judge withdrew. China attacked the president of
ITLOS, who appointed judges to the Arbitral Tribunal, in crude racial terms because he
was a Japanese. And China attacked the credentials of other judges appointed to the
Arbitral Tribunal on the basis of their nationality. These judges were from Europe and
Africa and China argued they were unqualified because did not know anything about
Asian conditions.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Chinese Judge Elected to the International

Tribunal for the Law of the Sea,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, August 26,
2020. All background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.