Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Philippines to proceed with UN arbitration over South China Sea

MANILA — The Philippines will proceed with its legal case against China at the United Nations tribunal over Manila’s claims to parts of the disputed South China Sea, despite pressure from Beijing to delay or drop the case, lawyers for the Philippines’ legal team said yesterday.

The Pagasa Island is part of the Spratly group of islands in the South China 
Sea, which are claimed by both the Philippines 
and China 
in the dispute. Photo: REUTERS

The Pagasa Island is part of the Spratly group of islands in the South China
Sea, which are claimed by both the Philippines
and China
in the dispute. Photo: REUTERS

MANILA — The Philippines will proceed with its legal case against China at the United Nations tribunal over Manila’s claims to parts of the disputed South China Sea, despite pressure from Beijing to delay or drop the case, lawyers for the Philippines’ legal team said yesterday.

Manila is seeking a ruling to confirm its rights to exploit the waters in its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as allowed under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), its team of United States and British lawyers said.

It is set to file a formal pleading tomorrow, meeting a March 30 deadline set by the UN arbitral tribunal, said the head of the Philippines’ legal team, Mr Paul Reichler at US law firm Foley Hoag. Manila had filed an initial complaint in January last year.

China, which has refused to participate in the case, claims about 90 per cent of the South China Sea, displaying its reach on official maps with a so-called nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of South-east Asia.

Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to parts of the potentially energy-rich waters.

The UNCLOS gives a country 12 nautical miles of territorial control, with claim to sovereign rights to explore, exploit and manage natural resources within 200 nautical miles. China claims several reefs and shoals in Manila’s EEZ.

Legal experts said it could take months for the panel to weigh the case. A ruling against China by the five-member panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration could prompt other claimants to challenge Beijing, they said.

But while legally binding, any ruling would effectively be unenforceable as there is no body under the UNCLOS to police such decisions, said legal experts, although the ruling would carry considerable moral and political weight.

Arbitration would clarify Manila’s rights to fishing and other resources in its EEZ as well as rights to enforce its laws in those areas, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said.

“We see arbitration as an open, friendly and durable solution to the dispute,” he told a business forum recently.

China reiterated this week that it would not take part. “We demand the Philippines end its mistaken actions and stop going further down this wrong path to prevent bilateral relations from being further harmed,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing on Wednesday.

Experts who have followed the tensions in the South China Sea said Manila’s decision to go ahead with the case despite warnings from China was a significant move.

“The pressure to withdraw before actually mounting an argument has been intense, but they’ve stayed the course,” said Professor Carl Thayer of the University of New South Wales.

The case has been the focus of growing interest across East Asia and beyond, given China’s assertiveness in both the South and East China Seas.

Washington has stiffened its rhetorical support for Manila’s action, although it insists it does not take sides in regional territorial disputes.

Tensions have been on full display in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Manila protested against action by Chinese coastguard ships to block two Philippine civilian vessels from resupplying marines on the Second Thomas Reef, a part of the Spratly group of islands that are contested by both countries.

The two sides have also traded angry words over the Scarborough Shoal, which is located further north, with Philippine officials claiming in January that a Chinese coastguard ship had fired a water cannon at Filipino fishermen.

Manila has said both reefs lie within its EEZ, but China has claimed they are part of its territory. AGENCIES

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.