THE Philippines should not rely solely on the case it filed against China at The Hague in its attempt to settle overlapping claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), a political analyst said on Sunday.
Bobby Tuazon, director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPeg), said the government can still pursue other options in resolving the maritime dispute with China even after receiving a favorable decision from the United Nations arbitral tribunal.
He noted that the Aquino administration should not limit its option to the “purely legalist-institutional” approach of the arbitration and should also be open to bilateral and multilateral talks with China.
“Even if the Philippine government pursues its petition against China’s sovereign claims at the UN tribunal, international law does not preclude the venue of bilateral or multilateral negotiations where the same issue can be resolved,” Tuazon pointed out.
The tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last week ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear merits of the case filed by the Philippine government against China.
The Philippines has insisted that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), which the Philippines and China ratified, should be used to resolve the territorial row over isolated reefs and islets.
Beijing refused to participate in the proceedings.
“The Chinese government’s refusal to honor the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction [over]the Philippine case does not mean that the tribunal cannot proceed with hearing the petition,” Tuazon explained.
He, however, said international law also cannot compel China to appear before the tribunal or to accept any ruling that will be issued after deliberations.
“Whatever decision that comes out of the arbitral arbitration is not mandatory to states,” Tuazon added.
It is for this reason, he said, that the Philippines should consider other options such as peaceful negotiations since history has shown that China was able to resolve several territorial disputes with other countries through bilateral negotiations.
But Tuazon noted that multilateral platforms such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) may not be viable in this case since not all member-countries are part of the maritime tussle or have claims in the disputed area.
He said the Philippines can hold bilateral talks with China considering that Beijing has been known to engage in such negotiations and some had been successful.
Since 1949, China has settled 17 of its 23 border and territorial disputes by negotiating with some countries such as Russia, India and Vietnam.
In these cases, Tuazon said, territorial settlements were reached, and in some cases, China ended up having less than 50 percent of the disputed territories.
He is not alone in his call on the government to consider bilateral talks with Beijing.
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has urged the Aquino administration to initiate bilateral talks with China, noting that it is the best option to address the maritime dispute.
“We do not want war. Arbitration is not one that is going to be recognized by the Chinese. So it has to be negotiations,” Marcos explained.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua in July said China’s door for bilateral consultation and negotiations will be open forever.
But Malacañang maintained that the Philippines will continue pushing for a legally binding Code of Conduct on the South China Sea between the Asean and China.
Marcos, the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, noted that the Philippines is not going to lose anything by accepting the Chinese invitation to a dialogue.