The Philippines on Tuesday said China has deprived Filipino fishermen of their right to fish within the country’s exclusive economic zone as the Asian giant aggressively staked its claim to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Paul Reichler, the country’s lead counsel in its case against China, made this assertion at the start of a series of hearings on merits of the case that Manila brought before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in The Netherlands.
“Mr. Reichler mentioned that China has asserted exclusive rights over the areas covered by the nine-dash line and has deprived the Philippines of fishing and exploration activities,” Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said in a bulletin sent to reporters in Manila.
Valte is with the Philippine delegation in The Hague for the second round of hearings that started last Tuesday and would last until Monday.
The Philippines has assembled a legal powerhouse led by Solicitor-General Florin Hilbay and lead counsel Reichler for the arbitral hearings.
China refused to participate in the proceedings as it questioned the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
The seats reserved for the Chinese panel were empty throughout the proceedings.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration “commenced the hearing on the merits and remaining issues of jurisdiction and admissibility,” the The Hague-based tribunal said in a statement.
Manila has called for the tribunal, which is more than a century old, to rule on the dispute, appealing on the basis of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, putting it in conflict with several neighbors, and is a party to the Unclos but has rejected the court’s jurisdiction on the issue.
“Our position is clear: We will not participate [in]or accept the arbitration,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing earlier on Tuesday.
The hearings, expected to last until November 30, are being held behind closed doors.
But Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are allowed to have observers present.
Reichler pointed out on Tuesday that China’s nine-dash line is baseless under the Unclos, the so-called Constitution of the oceans.
Both Manila and Beijing were signatories to the convention.
The Philippines argued that based on the provisions of the Unclos, it has exclusive rights to fish in waters within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
China’s nine-dash line theory lays claim to almost the entire South China Sea.
Bernard Oxman, an external counsel of the Philippine panel, said China’s expansive claim “encroaches on the rights of coastal states like the Philippines.”
To disprove China’s claim, lawyer Andrew Loewenstein presented eight maps to the tribunal, “the first of which dates back to the Ming Dynasty.”
The maps “show that China’s territory did not include that which it claims [is]now under the nine-dash line,” Valte said.
Loewenstein said China’s claim of historic rights is flawed because it “failed to satisfy the requirements to establish the claim, namely: a continuous exercise of exclusive control for a long period of time over the said area.”
The Philippines sought international arbitration after numerous attempts to settle the dispute bilaterally ended in a deadlock.
China through the years took advantage of the country’s weak military capability and took control of several territories without firing a shot.
In 2012, the Chinese Coast Guard, aided by a flotilla of fishing boats, engaged a lone Philippine Coast Guard patrol ship in a standoff at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales.
Foul weather forced the Philippine vessel to return to port.
The Chinese has since blocked Filipino fishermen from getting near the shoal, which used to be a rich fishing ground for fishermen from Zambales and Pangasinan.
Early this year, the international community sounded alarm bells after the Chinese started building artificial islands in Kagitingan, Zamora and Panganiban Reefs as well as Mabini, Burgos, Calderon and Kennar Reefs that they occupied in the West Philippine Sea.
All eyes were on China when its navy challenged a US surveillance aircraft and a warship that were sent on a “freedom of navigation” patrol near the reclaimed areas.
Last month, the UN tribunal ruled that it has immediate jurisdiction over seven out of 15 issues the Philippines raised against China.
China, however, rejected the court’s authority in the case and wants to deal with the issue bilaterally.
Manila hopes that a ruling in its favor from the court, which was established in 1899, could put pressure on Beijing to rein in its territorial ambitions.
In a July hearing in The Hague, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario warned the very integrity of UN maritime laws was at stake.
China’s behavior had become increasingly “aggressive” and negotiations had proved futile, del Rosario said.
Beijing has never precisely defined its claims to the strategic waterway, through which about a third of all the world’s traded oil passes.
The waters—claimed in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei Darussalam—have become the stage for a tussle for dominance between Beijing and Washington, the world’s two largest economic and military powers.