The Philippines took a desperate legal step against China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, formally notifying the Asian superpower that Manila is seeking international arbitration to declare Beijing’s moves in the potentially oil-rich waters “unlawful.”
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday his department summoned Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing and handed her a note notifying the Chinese Government that the Philippines is bringing the countries’ conflicting claims to a tribunal operating under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It wants the panel to declare Beijing’s moves in the potentially oil-rich waters unlawful.
“The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime disputes with China,” del Rosario told a news conference. “To this day, a solution is still elusive.”
Six Governments have overlapping claims across the vast South China Sea, with China claiming it has sovereignty over virtually all of it. Chinese paramilitary ships confronted Philippine vessels last year in a months-long standoff over a shoal that both countries claim.
There are fears that territorial conflicts in the region, including a dispute between Japan and China in the East China Sea, could spark Asia’s next armed conflict.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhang Hua said Ma responded by reiterating that “China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and its adjacent waters.” Zhang said the ambassador stressed that the disputes should be settled by the rival claimants through one-on-one negotiations.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in New York that the United Nations “if necessary, if requested, is ready to provide technical and professional assistance.”
“But primarily, all these issues should be resolved by the parties concerned,” he said, adding that it was important for the countries in the region to resolve disputes “through dialogue in a peaceful and amicable way.”
China, the Philippines’ third-largest trading partner, doesn’t like to see its sovereignty or its claims of sovereignty questioned and has regularly and vociferously opposed attempts to involve third parties or world bodies in the South China Sea disputes, fearing that would weaken its hand.
The Philippines hopes that arbitration through an international tribunal would lead to a ruling that China’s sprawling claims violate the UN sea convention, or UNCLOS.