News / Asia

China Likely to Ignore Philippines' Challenge in South China Sea

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario has asked an international tribunal to intervene in its long-standing South China Sea territorial dispute with China, January 22, 2013.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario has asked an international tribunal to intervene in its long-standing South China Sea territorial dispute with China, January 22, 2013.
Analysts say China will likely ignore the Philippines' decision to take a long-running territorial feud to an international tribunal, continuing its insistence on solving maritime disputes without third party involvement.

Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario said Tuesday his government will take the issue to an arbitral tribunal under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which has been ratified by both countries.

The Philippines wants the panel to reject China's claims to nearly the entire South China Sea. It is also challenging what it says is China's "illegal" activity around reefs and rocks it says are part of Manila's exclusive economic zone under the U.N. convention.

Most observers say China will almost certainly not agree to participate in the panel, in keeping with its long-standing policy of solving territorial disputes through direct negotiations.

Carl Thayer of Australia's University of New South Wales tells VOA the tribunal may be able to move forward without Chinese participation. He says the Philippines hopes a favorable decision would give it a moral victory.

"It's [a case] that not only has the legal side, but also has a strong moral suasion. If the tribunal ruled even partly in the Philippines' favor, it would deflate China's claims and give more legality and international cover to the Philippines."

But Thayer says the court's decision, though technically "binding," could easily be ignored by China, since there is no mechanism included to enforce any possible ruling.

Sam Bateman, a maritime security expert, acknowledges China's refusal to participate in the tribunal "probably won't be a great public relations success." But he tells VOA that may be exactly what the Philippines government is aiming for.

"I see it in many ways as a bold gesture by the Philippines, hoping that China will respond negatively," says Bateman, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, who described the move as Manila's "attempt to take the high ground."

"If China were to choose to opt out [of the tribunal], of course this would lead to another round of perhaps international condemnation, you know another example of China's assertiveness and lack of preparedness to operate, and those sort of things."

But Bateman says all countries, including China, have the right under UNCLOS to opt out of arbitration that involves binding decisions on issues related to maritime boundaries and sovereignty disputes.

That appears to be the route chosen by Beijing. On Tuesday, the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines reasserted China's "indisputable sovereignty" over waters in the South China Sea, saying China supports a negotiated settlement "through peaceful means."

In any case, most analysts agree that the competing claims of China and the Philippines are unlikely to be resolved soon, and that the case will take three to four years to work through the international tribunal.

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Walter Ziobro
January 23, 2013 11:29 AM
The Chinese choosing to ignore arbitration would be tacit admission that their claims are not in conformity with current international maritime law.
In Response

by: Peter from: USA
January 27, 2013 12:22 AM
The article had just written that all signatories in UNCLOS, including China, have the right to opt out of binding tribunals on territory claims. Since opt out is a right, no such tacit admission can be applied logically. Emotionally you want to but emotion doesn't mean is not really legal
In Response

by: Dawn Dare from: Singapore
January 26, 2013 12:15 PM
@Gravur > China was never an independent country when it was colonized by the Mongolians. Zheng He was reporting to a Mongolian emperor. Tell us about your imagined story of "Chinese independence".
In Response

January 23, 2013 2:48 PM
The Spratlys and the Paracels were under Vietnamese administration until Vietnam became a French protectorate in 1880.France then administered these territories on behalf of the Vietnamese until their departure from Vietnam in 1954 when these islands reverted back to South Vietnamese control.The Chinese nationalists only drew up the map for claiming these islands in 1930s.The PRC moved to seize the western half of the Paracels from South Vietnam in 1956 and the eastern half in 1974.Chinese territories reached as far as Hainan island.China should be reasonable and act with restraint and respect their neighbours' territorial integrity.Any threatened use of force to assert your sovereignty,would not change those facts.Japan,the Philippines and Vietnam are not going to sit back and let China walk all over them.I am sickened by the Chinese claim that they are a peace-loving nation and all the present troubles were started by their neighbours.Don't tell me Inner Mongolia belonged to China donkey years ago.China's acts of aggression have pushed their neighbours' tolerance to the limit,the shame is the UN is partly under China's control,so the Philippines's claim would probably fall into deaf ears.The way forward is to unite together against Chinese tyranny
In Response

by: Gravur
January 23, 2013 12:35 PM
The philippines was never an independent country before it was colonized by Spain and the United States, both of which never cobtrolled the spratly islands.

The entire spratly islands were claimed and controlled by the Republic of China (Taiwan) before the Philippines and Vitnam ever lodged their claims, which came out of thin air with no justification other than the proximity of the islands to their countries. And if we go by proximity, Great Britain must surrender its uninhabited south georgia island to Argentina.

It is the Philippines and Vietnam whose claims is not legitimate. The spratly islands go either to China or Taiwan.

by: UNCLOS Expert? from: US
January 23, 2013 11:24 AM
"Sam Bateman, a maritime security expert" should read the declarations and statements made by both Philippines and China when ratifying the UNCLOS.
In Response

by: Peter from: USA
January 27, 2013 12:25 AM
Dawn, that was 600 years ago and it wasn't a criminal offense back then. get your timeline straight first. Philippine islands back then were compose of many kingdoms in which some were protectorate of Ming dynasy of China.
In Response

by: Dawn Dare from: Singapore
January 26, 2013 12:18 PM
@cheng hu "Protection" is an old racket considered a criminal offense. Why would the Philippines need protection?
In Response

by: cheng hu from: hainam city
January 24, 2013 8:45 PM
China was in the South East Asia region protecting the people of Sulu, Acheh and the Straits of Malacca through admiral Cheng Ho 600 hundred years ago before the existence of the Philippines.

Chinese navy was all powerful and collecting taxes and spices from the people of the South China Seas because the whole of South China Sea belongs to China.

The Filippinos think they can grab any land belongs to the Chinese at their whims and fancies.

The Philippines is lucky for their existence if not China is a civilized country for labelling South China Sea at their hallucianation!

There is the whole of East Philippine seas for them to grab and develope yet they want to fool around with China.

Sigh! Coryzon Aquino must be turning in her grave for having such an incompetent and nincompoop son!
In Response

by: Danidanado from: Philippines
January 24, 2013 8:17 PM
Well said Santi! While China did make some unilateral amendments to it's own version of UNCLOS, it doesn't matter. The Treaty was signed so it should be Honored. Why hasn't China Honored the Treaty? Could it be that China has no Honor and therefore cannot be Trusted? I wonder....
In Response

by: Santi
January 23, 2013 3:47 PM
Check out the European maps of the 1600's. You'll see that Spratlys and Scarborough shoal was part of the Philippines. Even the Republic of Venice acknowledges it. For almost a hundred years Scarborough was a mere gunnery range by the Americans and now it is part of China? Since when? 2009 when they found out there is gas? Historically none of those were part of China. It was part of the Sultanate of Sulu and Sabah. China never came down that far because they'll have their head cut off. Don't change the history. Wiki leaks just busted your big lie.
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