THE Philippines violated international law when it declared before the arbitral tribunal that the disputed Itu Aba or Taiping is a “rock,” a Chinese official said on Friday.
In a regular press briefing in Beijing, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying stressed that the Philippines’ claim on Itu Aba is “completely unacceptable” since it has been proven that the feature can sustain human habitation and has an economic life of its own – enough to meet the criteria for an island as defined in Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
Itu Aba is considered as the largest natural feature in the resource-rich Spratly or Nansha Islands chain.
“Over the history, Chinese fishermen have resided on Taiping Dao for years, working and living there, carrying out fishing activities, digging wells for fresh water, cultivating land and farming, building huts and temples, and raising livestock,” she said in a translated transcript issued by the ministry.
The official added, “The working and living practice of Chinese people on Taiping Dao fully proves that Taiping Dao is an ‘island.’”
The Philippines argued at The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that Itu Aba is a rock, and that China should not have any maritime entitlements beyond 12 nautical miles of its territorial sea.
However, if the court rules that Itu Aba is an island, China will be in a position to continue to claim the feature and its 200 mile exclusive economic zone.
“The Philippines’ attempt to characterize Taiping Dao as a ‘rock’ exposed that its purpose of initiating the arbitration is to deny China’s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and relevant maritime rights and interests. This violates international law, and is totally unacceptable,” Hua said.
Just like China, Taiwan had earlier insisted that it will not recognize the upcoming ruling of the tribunal if the arbitrators will not visit Itu Aba to personally obtain accurate information.
UN court has no jurisdiction
A Taiwanese group called Chinese Society of the Law of the Sea believes that the United Nations-backed court has no jurisdiction on the Philippines’ arbitration case against China.
“As a national academic organization in the law of the sea field, the Chinese Society of the Law of the Sea has been deeply shocked by the Arbitral Tribunal’s acts of pushing forward the arbitration and making the award, and is concerned about the negative impact that the award may have on the international maritime rule of law,” the organization said in a translated statement published on China’s state news agency, Xinhua.
The group argued that the tribunal disregarded basic facts and lopsidedly accepted the Philippines’ evidence; erred in its interpretation and application of law, which erodes the authority and integrity of Unclos; and deprived the parties to the disputes of their right to settle the disputes over maritime delimitation through agreement.
“To sum up, the arbitral tribunal’s award on jurisdiction and admissibility is obviously flawed and hence has no legal effect,” it said.