The Philippines has called for a “truly just solution” to China’s claims to disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) as an international tribunal wrapped up five days of hearings on the issue.
“We view China as a valued friend, and it is precisely to preserve that friendship that we initiated this arbitration,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in his concluding remarks to the court on Monday.
Del Rosario noted that the Philippines’ case rested on the belief that “international law is the great equalizer among states” and “allows small countries to stand on an equal footing with more powerful states.”
“There are those who think the rule of law in international relations does not apply to Great Powers. We reject that view,” he said.
“Those who think ‘might makes right’ have it backward. It is exactly the opposite, in that right makes might,” del Rosario added.
He lashed out at China’s actions, saying these were “not just interfering with the progress of the Filipino people” but “also trampling upon the rights and interests of the peoples of Southeast Asia and beyond.”
“It is not just the fate of the Philippines that rests in your hands. I note the presence of the distinguished observers from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. I thank them for their presence. Other countries too are watching to see what this tribunal will do,” del Rosario said.
“China’s island building not only undermines regional stability, but also the rule of law,” he noted. “It is moreover inflicting massive environmental damage on the most diverse marine environment in the world. China has intentionally created one of the biggest emerging environmental disasters in the world.”
“Yet, the stakes are still greater,” del Rosario said, adding that “no state, no matter how powerful, should be allowed to claim an entire sea as its own and to use force or the threat of force in asserting that claim. No state should be permitted to write and rewrite the rules in order to justify its expansionist agenda.”
The Philippine case, he said, is a fulfillment of “one of its most solemn duties, which is to settle international disputes peacefully.”
“We are confident that you will interpret and apply the law in a way that produces a truly just solution,” he said. “That is the best way, indeed, the only way to craft a legal solution that truly promotes peace, security and good neighborliness in the South China Sea.”
Del Rosario warned that if the tribunal ruled that China has a potential entitlement to 200 miles “on the basis of a speck of broken coral and sand in the middle of the South China Sea,” it would hand Beijing the “golden key.”
Filipinos, he said, “would only be able to benefit from the natural resources of our EEZ [esclusive economic zone]and continental shelf on China’s terms, if at all.”
“In the real world, that would mean not at all,” Del Rosario added. “It would also perpetuate in another form, the same disputes, the same danger and the same instability that China currently exploits without restraint.”
He asked the court to rule that entitlements of tiny insular features being claimed by China are limited to 12 miles.
Finding otherwise, del Rosario said, “would convert the nine-dash line, or its equivalent in the form of exaggerated maritime zones for tiny, uninhabitable features, into a Berlin Wall of the Sea.”
“A giant fence, owned by, and excluding everyone but, China itself,” he added.
Del Rosario said objectives of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) are “far from irrelevant” as they include “the maintenance and strengthening of international peace and security.”
“Nothing would contribute more to these objectives than the tribunal’s finding that China’s rights and obligations are neither more nor less than those established by Unclos,” he added.
Manila has called for the tribunal, which is more than a century old, to rule on the dispute, appealing to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, putting it in conflict with several neighbors, and is a party to the convention but has rejected the court’s jurisdiction on the issue.
It 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.