Philippines takes China to UN over sea row

Posted at 01/22/2013 3:42 PM | Updated as of 01/22/2013 8:39 PM

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Saying a solution to the maritime dispute over the West Philippine Sea remains elusive, the Philippines is bringing the dispute with China before the arbitral tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In a prepared statement read before members of the media on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing was handed a note verbale informing China of the Philippines' move to question the validity of its virtual claim over all of the West Philippine Sea as contained in its nine-dash line theory.

The theory takes about 90 percent of the whole area, which China calls the South China Sea in its territorial maps. The boundary has been published in Chinese annals since 1947.

“The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China... we hope that the arbitral proceedings shall bring this dispute to a durable solution,” he said, noting China’s various unlawful activities in the area.

Besides an assertion of the Philippines’ right over the area, del Rosario added: “China has also laid claim to occupy and build structures on certain submerged banks, reefs, and low tide elevations that do not qualify as islands under UNCLOS but are parts of the Philippine Continental Shelf or the international seabed. In addition, China has occupied certain small uninhabitable coral projections that are barely above water at high tide and which are rocks under Article 121 III of UNCLOS.”

DFA also asked the tribunal to check into the domestic laws of China, which should be in conformity with UNCLOS, he said.

Del Rosario said UNCLOS, which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, will be the great “equalizer.”

He said the country’s move is in accordance with President Aquino’s desire to have a peaceful and rules-based solution to the problem.

The DFA chief did not take questions from the press, but distributed a paper on the government’s “legal track.”

In the document, the DFA said the country has a very good case. “In any legal action, however, there are many different factors to consider. What is more important is that we are able to present our case against China and defend our national interest and maritime domain before an independent international tribunal.”

It expects the case to last three to four years.

The DFA said there is nothing to fear insofar as the case's impact on the country’s relationship with China and on overseas Filipino workers in China.

“As arbitration is friendly and peaceful, we hope that there will be no adverse effects on our trade with China.  President Aquino and President Hu Jintao agreed that the bilateral agenda will be moved forward while contentious issues will be abstracted for separate treatment," the DFA said.

An international law expert told ABS-CBNnews.com, however, that arbitration will not happen if China decides against it. “Unless it’s just about fishing rights, and not on territorial matters.”

He said China can always file a motion to dismiss.

Nonetheless, the expert commended the Philippines’ move, saying it is “very well prepared and to my mind is a valid and enforceable one and has successfully avoided the exclusion clause invoked by China on Aug 25, 2006 in acceding to UNCLOS tribunal's jurisdiction.”

The expert is referring to China’s statutory declaration on Aug 25, 2006 before the UN secretary-general that it doesn't accept any international court or arbitration in disputes over sea delimitation, territorial disputes and military activities.”

The expert said: “Maritime, and not land rights, are the ones raised as an issue which is well within the Hamburg court's jurisdiction.”

CHINA WANTS BILATERAL NEGOTIATIONS

Meantime, China insisted on its “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea, and urged that disputes be settled through “negotiations.”

In a statement issued after the DFA made public the government’s plan to bring the dispute before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the Chinese embassy said “China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in South China Sea and its adjacent waters. The Chinese side strongly holds the disputes on South China Sea should be settled by parties concerned through negotiations.”

The Chinese embassy said Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing was handed a note verbale on Tuesday informing China of the Philippines move to question the validity of its virtual claim over all of the South China Sea as contained in its nine-dash line theory.