News / Asia

Philippines Eyes Swift Conclusion of S. China Sea Arbitration

FILE - Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario at the Department of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Manila, Sept. 4, 2013.
FILE - Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario at the Department of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Manila, Sept. 4, 2013.
Simone Orendain
The Philippines is pressing forward with its legal challenge to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Philippine officials this week said they were hopeful the U.N. arbitration body could issue a ruling sooner than initially expected.

A top diplomat says the country is hopeful that the panel of the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea will have a ruling before President Benigno Aquino’s term ends in 2016.  Philippine officials had previously said the case would take three to four years to complete.

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This week Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told an audience in Manila that pursuing arbitration was the only viable option after Manila had “exhausted all diplomatic avenues” to try to settle its dispute with Beijing over contested rocks and outcroppings in the South China Sea.

“China’s continuous overwhelming naval and maritime presence in the area is also contributing to the raising of regional tensions,” he said.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have partial or total claims to the resource-rich and highly traversed sea.  China maintains it has indisputable sovereignty over nearly the entire sea.

The Philippines filed its case in January under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states that coastal nations are entitled to maritime territory that extends some 22 kilometers offshore. It also provides for a 370 kilometer economic exclusion zone for fishing and mining natural resources. While China has signed the convention, it has rejected the Philippine case.  Beijing has not responded to any of the subsequent proceedings, effectively making the Philippines the only active party.

Last week Paul Reichler, the Philippines’ lead counsel, told the Wall Street Journal that if China continues “to hold to its position” he expects an award to come down by mid-to-late 2014.

Carl Thayer, a researcher on South China Sea disputes at the Australia Defense Force Academy, says international adjudicators, who are not connected to the case, have mixed views on the outcome.

He says there are two hurdles the Philippines must overcome before the tribunal can even hear its case.

“That the arbitral tribunal has jurisdiction, in other words it does not touch on matters that China has exempted itself from and that the Philippines’ claim is well-founded in law.  And I think the latter is very strong,” he said.

China's position

Thayer explains that before Beijing signed the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, it chose to opt out of international jurisdiction over some territorial issues, effectively forbidding outside scrutiny of some issues. The Philippines is trying to convince the U.N. tribunal to reaffirm its own territorial claim based on international law.

During a regular news briefing in Beijing Friday, VOA asked Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying if China plans to participate in the U.N. tribunal when the Philippines submits evidence for its claims in March.

She said China does not accept the arbitration request submitted by the Philippines side. She also urged the Philippines to resolve the dispute through bilateral negotiation.

Last month, China hosted a meeting with the 10-member Association of Southeast Nations to discuss how they would implement the conditions of an 11-year old non-binding pledge to peacefully manage the disputes in the South China Sea.  The Philippines has been pushing for negotiations on a legally binding code and is trying to drum up international support for it.

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Comment Sorting
by: daphne from: Malaysis
October 29, 2013 4:07 AM
Back off CHINA dont come to Borneo You are not God you dont have a right to take our are so gready you want to take all our Mineral not a chance and this is why other countries dont want you take part because you such a jerk

by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
October 26, 2013 10:10 AM
Go China go!
In Response

by: daphne from: Malaysia
October 29, 2013 3:01 AM
China really a big bully you don't have a right to take Brunei and Malaysia part you are violiating the law of human right. I am chinese from Malaysia I don't agreed with your action Borneo is our land you don't have the right to intruding our resources. We ASEAN country should stand firm with our own part. CHINA You are not right.
In Response

by: Joel Montel from: U.S. of A.
October 27, 2013 9:45 PM
China is nothing but a BIG BULLY. Eventually the will pay. Let's start by not buying anything from China. Some of there products are tainted or safe for human consumption..ex: baby formula, toys, building materials etc.

by: joe from: langoon
October 25, 2013 3:27 PM

by: Temujin from: San Diego
October 25, 2013 3:08 PM
Vietnam should join hands with Phillippines to sue china for greed claims of their territorial water at same time to build a credible naval force to deter any chinese aggression and provocation. Vietnam and Philipines must support Tibet and Ughurstan independence movements, if the chinese didn't respect your sovereignties than why should anyone respect their.
In Response

by: Jonathan huang from: Canada
October 26, 2013 10:05 AM
Apparently, China already talked Vietnam away from it through the recent visiting of China by the Vietnam leader.
Divid and rule, carrot and stick, lol that is politics. Philippines is waiting for the stick, hahaha

by: Advisor from: US
October 25, 2013 11:50 AM
The best thing for China to do is to learn from the US to withdraw from the so called U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea!
In Response

by: kulim
October 28, 2013 11:37 AM
China is committed to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea when the case was brought by the Philippines and so even if China withdraw now, she is still liable.
In Response

by: Don Koh
October 25, 2013 5:15 PM
Withdrawing from or not recognizing UNCLOS however, does nothing to exempt one Nation, such as PRC (or USA for that matter) from still violating International Law. That is, one simply can't 'withdraw' from any responsibility or accountability to violations made of International Law (e.g., Customary International Law).

And that's the main issue in this dispute which needs to be resolved in terms of an interim court ruling (not-enforceable) and then via longer-term Rules-based, Code of Conduct for the region.

Thus, the main issue is that PRC-govt's Unilateral claims of indisputable sovereignty over all territories assumed is NOT legal and is a violation of Philippine's rights. i.e., enforcing 'might is right' doctrine over said disputed SCS/WPS territories is not a legal, nor internationally-recognized policy.

Once said unilateral claims of indisputable sovereignty is thrown out, then Ph govt and Beijing can enter into discussions as to how the rest of region can soon commence 'rule-based' bilateral and multilateral CoC.
In Response

by: Temujin from: San Diego
October 25, 2013 3:14 PM
The best option for Philippines is to keep pressuring china on both in term of diplomatic and militarily. Smaller countries (Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam) must look into powerful china deterrence (thermal nukes)

by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
October 25, 2013 10:41 AM
The bold step taken by Philippines to refer the South China Sea territorial dispute with China to the UN International Tribunal on the Laws of the Sea, is a model for other countries such as Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The belligerence of China in the South China Sea can flare up into war at any time threatening world peace. Since China and Philippines have signed the convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines action is the best recourse to solve the dispute with China.

China create territorial disputes as part of the expansionist policies and then want to negotiate with each country. There is no end to the negotiations with China with reference to its aggression. China always want one on one negotiation to perpetuate the status quo of aggression and prolong the negotiations indefinitely. India and China negotiated for six decades to resolve the border dispute with no end in sight.
In Response

October 26, 2013 4:53 AM
Wise comment ! China's expansion policy is,seize the areas by force, hold on to them as long as they can,until they become De facto Chinese territories, as in the case of Tibet, Xinjang, Inner Mongolia and Vietnam's Paracel Islands. Constant threats from China and heavy dependence on the Chinese economy,has deterred Vietnam from denouncing Chinese aggression publicly. It is about time Vietnam should take a tough stance against Chinese aggression

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