Filipino activists urge China to settle disputes in arbitration

Posted at 04/22/14 4:46 PM

Leftist groups wave anti-China banners as they march toward the Chinese Consular Office in Makati City on Tuesday. The protesters urged China to end what they believe are incursions in the West Philippine Sea. Photo by Noel Celis, AFP

MANILA - Filipino activists protested in Manila on Tuesday denouncing the actions of Chinese warships in disputed waters and urging Beijing to join arbitration proceedings the Philippines has initiated on the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) dispute.

Tensions have simmered in past weeks, as Manila sought a ruling on March 30 to confirm its right to exploit the waters in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as allowed under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

China has reiterated that it would not accept international arbitration, saying the only way to resolve the dispute was through bilateral negotiations.

Nearly 100 members of left-leaning activist groups, led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance), trooped to the Chinese consulate in Manila's commercial district, condemning China's moves.

"We are here to protest the incursions of China in the Philippine territories and their continuing violations of Philippine sovereignty. And we are calling on the Chinese government to face squarely the case filed right now before the international tribunal. It would be in the best interest of regional peace and stability that the dispute be resolved in a peaceful manner, in accordance with international instruments, such as the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea," Renato Reyes, spokesperson for Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said.

On March 29, a day before the Philippines submitted a pleading for its arbitration case, two Chinese coastguard ships tried to block a Philippine government vessel delivering food, water and fresh troops to a military outpost on a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

The Philippine government vessel made a dash for shallow waters around the disputed reef, a cat-and-mouse encounter that offered a rare glimpse into the tensions playing out routinely in waters that are one of the region's biggest flashpoints.

It was a reminder of how assertive China has become in pressing its claims to disputed territory far from its mainland.

"It is really not surprising, that since China adopted the capitalist road, China is now entertaining imperialist ambitions. It's trying to flex its muscles in the Asia-Pacific region. And we have no choice but to resist this kind of incursions and eventually, naked aggression, being launched by China in furtherance of its own economic agenda, which is not the same as the economic agenda that the Filipinos want to pursue," Reyes added.

A ruling against China by the five-member panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration could prompt other claimants to challenge Beijing, experts said. But while legally binding, any ruling would effectively be unenforceable as there is no body under UNCLOS to police such decisions, legal experts said.

China claims about 90 percent 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 Southeast Asia.

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