JAPAN and the Philippines joined forces on Thursday to call on China to observe the rule of law in resolving maritime disputes after an international tribunal rejected Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met his counterpart Perfecto Yasay in the southern Philippine city of Davao where both pledged to work closely to boost maritime security while facing separate sea disputes with China.
“We have agreed that in the pursuit of the solution to the conflict in the maritime area, it is important to base ourselves on the rule of law and resort to peaceful means and not the use of force or coercion,” Kishida said, referring to the UN-backed tribunal’s finding published in July.
“We invoke and urge China to make sure that maritime security and the rule of law must completely and uncompromisingly be respected,” Yasay said in his statement.
Japan and China are locked in a long-running dispute over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea, while Manila and Beijing have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.
China claims historic rights to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) through its so-called “nine-dash line,” which was invalidated by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague on July 12.
Kishida on Tuesday called in Cheng Yonghua, Beijing’s envoy to Tokyo, following what Japan calls “intrusions” by Chinese ships near the disputed islands for five consecutive days.
Tensions over the disputes have mounted since the tribunal’s decision, with China angrily rejecting it and announcing penalties for “illegal” fishing in its waters including the disputed areas.
“We have the same experience in the East China Sea and the South China Sea with respect to certain actions that use force, intimidation, provocation in order to assert one’s claim over a particular territory,” said Yasay.
Kishida said Japan, while not a claimant in the South China Sea, would continue to cooperate closely with “relevant countries” for the peaceful resolution of maritime rows.
He pledged continued Japanese aid for the Philippines to boost its maritime security capabilities.
Tokyo will deliver next week the first of 10 coastguard vessels. Japan is also leasing the Philippines four TD-90 surveillance aircraft.
With a severely under-equipped military, the Philippines has been seeking to strengthen ties with allies like Japan, the United States and Australia, which have called on China to comply with the ruling.
China has conducted massive reclamation in the South China Sea, with a US-based think tank releasing images this week showing what appears to be Beijing building military aircraft hangars on disputed reefs in the Kalayaan (Spratlys) group.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to the sea, through which over $5 trillion in annual trade passes.
Reacting to new Chinese activity in the Spratlys, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio urged the government to slap another case against Beijing to get a monetary award.
In a forum at De La Salle University in Manila on Thursday, experts showed the harm inflicted on the marine resources of the Spratlys.
Carpio said the Philippines did not receive monetary damages over the massive destruction because the country did not ask for it when it first sought the ruling of an international arbitral tribunal to clarify maritime entitlements.
“We can file a new case to quantify the damages that we are entitled to. We can still do that. That has not been resolved because we did not pray for it,” Carpio said during the forum.
Carpio said the Philippines will likely win the case anew.
“This is what happened in Nicaragua versus the United States. We can do the same,” he said.
He was referring to the 1986 ruling of the International Court of Justice in favor of Nicaragua and against the US on the case concerning military and paramilitary activities in and against Managua. The court awarded reparations to Nicaragua.
Carpio is also pushing for the declaration of the Spratlys as an “International Marine Peace Park” to prevent further environmental degradation in the area.
“The proposal is that all claimant states suspend claims for 50 to 100 years and declare the Spratlys a marine protected area. All geographical features will be declared fish sanctuaries up to three nautical miles,” he said.
Former Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario urged Manila to call on its neighbors to draft a regional framework in managing the resources of the disputed waters.
“The Philippines should look for ways to cooperate with our neighbors to preserve marine ecosystems in the South China Sea and to ensure the sustainability of fishing resources for everyone,” he said in the same forum.
A study published in The Strait Times said the South China Sea produces at least 12 percent of the global fish catch each year. The Diplomat said forty percent of the world’s tuna are born in the area.