Beijing must follow the “established order” of international law by abiding by any decision of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos) on territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), according to an official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in an e-mail on Thursday it would be in China’s “interest to operate within the established order rather than outside of it.”
“The decision of the arbitral tribunal will become the established order in terms of maritime entitlements,” he added.
His statements came after Wu Shicun, senior research fellow and president of think tank National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS), said China will not abide by any decision on an arbitration case filed by the Philippines before the Itlos.
Jose maintained that arbitration is “an open, friendly and an internationally-accepted mechanism to peacefully settle disputes.”
He said a decision by the United Nations-backed court would clarify maritime entitlements in the region, and would accord each party in the disputes their maritime rights founded in international law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
“Such clarification would be a solid basis for a final and
enduring solution to the maritime disputes in the [West Philippine Sea],” Jose added.
He rejected the suggestion of the NISCSS for Manila to withdraw the arbitration case “as a good gesture” to improve Philippine-China relations.
“The Philippines’ commitment to promote the primacy of the rule of law in the [West Philippine Sea] is unwavering. We are fully committed to pursue the arbitration case to its logical conclusion,” Jose said.
He noted that the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the resource-rich region, so it has the right to “explore, exploit, develop and manage resources, living and non-living, found therein.”
“We call on China to cease all actions and activities that tend to escalate tensions, including their overwhelming presence in maritime areas claimed by [the Philippines], in order to deescalate and manage tensions in the region until a final resolution of the overlapping claims in the [West Philippine Sea] can be obtained,” Jose said.
The Philippines’ arbitration case, filed in January 2013, urges the Itlos to invalidate China’s nine-dash line policy, a horse-shaped line found in ancient Chinese maps supposedly showing Beijing’s territory in the West Philippine Sea.
The line extends to the coastal areas of China’s neighbors such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.
It also covers territories being claimed by Brunei Darussalam, as well as Taiwan, which Beijing considers as its renegade island.
The arbitration case came after the 2012 naval standoff between the Philippines and China on the (Panatag) Scarborough Shoal.
Since then, China has taken control of the shoal, and has reclaimed at least five islands in the disputed region.
It has rejected the arbitration case, and instead called on claimant-parties to negotiate with Beijing bilaterally.
Western countries, particularly the US, the United Kingdom and the European Union, have expressed support for the case.
They said it would be in China’s best interest to follow the Itlos ruling whatever it may be.
Failure to do so, according to them, would convince the international community that China cannot be a responsible global superpower.