Philippines scores one in China Sea dispute


FOR those who, looking anxiously at the Chinese Goliath, were in despair that our territorial case against China may be drowning, there has come a lightning bolt of good news – oddly in the middle of our observance of the feastday of the dead.

This Halloween, we Filipinos have something to cheer about, while our Chinese neighbors have something to rue.

At the Hague in the Netherlands, the international  arbitration tribunal ruled on Thursday, October 29, that it can take on a case between China and the Philippines over disputed territory in the South China Sea, overruling objections from Beijing that the arbitration body has no authority to hear the case.

It is by no means a verdict of victory; but the tribunal’s assertion of jurisdiction is already a victory for our side, even if only psychological or moral. The lightning bolt will also jolt Beijing. It represents a significant step forward in our strategic decision to submit the issue for arbitration as a matter of international law – in contrast to the Chinese position of merely insisting that it has sovereignty over the disputed sea. We have a long way to go before this dispute is over.

An arbitration decision in 2016

In filing the case before the tribunal in The Hague in January 2013, the Philippines contended that China’s massive territorial claims in the strategic waters do not conform with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and should be declared invalid. The Philippines also asserted that some Chinese-occupied reefs and shoals do not generate, or create a claim to, territorial waters.

In its ruling on Thursday, the tribunal said it has authority to look into seven issues raised by the Philippines against China but added that its jurisdiction over seven others “will need to be considered in conjunction with the merits.” It asked Manila to clarify one other issue. It said it has set hearings and expects to hand down a decision on the case next year.

China, the Philippines and four other governments have overlapping claims across the vast South China Sea, with Beijing claiming it has sovereignty over virtually all of the waters.
Some of the disputed areas are believed to sit atop vast undersea deposits of oil and gas and straddle some of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

The tribunal, which conducts its hearings behind closed doors, said the Philippines has stressed it is not asking arbitrators “to decide the question of sovereignty over maritime features in the South China Sea that are claimed by both the Philippines and China” or rule on maritime boundaries in the region.

China has declared it would not take part in the arbitration, insisting on one-on-one negotiations with smaller rival claimants which analysts say would give it advantage because of its sheer size and clout.

China sulks on the sidelines

On December 7, 2014, China’s Foreign Ministry released China’ s position paper on the Philippines’ appeal to international arbitration over the South China Sea disputes. It was the first time that China outlined in detail its position regarding the case.

According to Xu Hong, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Department of Treaty and Law, the Chinese government decided to release the paper to clear up misperceptions of China’s position. “Some people, who do not know the truth, have questioned China’s position of not accepting or participating in the arbitration. Some others, who harbor ulterior motives, have made … accusations or insinuations that China does not abide by international law,” Xu explained.

The crux of the position is that China does not believe that the arbitral tribunal has jurisdiction to decide the case.

More broadly, China rejects the notion that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) can be used to decide South China Sea sovereignty issues, which Beijing maintains is at the heart of the Philippine case.

Case moves into series of hearings     

With the question of jurisdiction decided by the tribunal last Thursday the case will move forward, regardless of China’s stated position.

The tribunal will conduct hearings on the case wherein interested parties like the Philippines will present their arguments in support of their positions. It hopes to issue a decision sometime next year.

Before the tribunal reaches a decision, the long-simmering disputes over the disputed waters will continue to strain relations in East and Southeast Asia, even sparking fears of a major conflict.

China’s move to undertake massive construction to transform at least seven shoals and reefs into islands in the Spratly Islands have ratcheted up tensions, and brought to the fore the danger of a face-off between the United States and China.

Just this week, a US guided missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles (22-kilometer) of one of the China-built artificial islands to underscore Washington’s position that the geographic alteration would not allow the previously submerged reef to generate territorial waters.

The US Navy sail-past provoked angry Chinese reactions, but it was welcomed by America’s allies, including the Philippines, and was upheld by others like Vietnam, which has also been locked in a bitter territorial feud with China.

On Thursday, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said the country’s military will take “all necessary” measures in response to any future US Navy incursions into what it considers its territorial waters around islands in the South China Sea.

The United States for its part said that the final decision by the arbitral tribunal — which is expected next year — would be legally binding on both the Philippines and China.

The US does not take a position on the competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, but it opposes coercion and wants all of the disputes to be resolved “peacefully, diplomatically and through international legal mechanisms such as arbitration.”

For the Philippines, it is a big deal that the arbitral tribunal responded favorably to its petition before the APEC summit of leaders convenes in Manila on November 17-20.

No leader – not President Xi, not President Obama, not even President Putin (who will be visiting as an observer) – will be unaware of the dispute and the tribunal’s decision.
All will see that on this great question, their host has shown skillful statecraft and adherence to the rule of law.


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  1. Like Israel who has never respected any UN resolution in favor of the Palestinians, China will never respect any decision that is adverse to it. This is the reality of power that stupid Filipinos do not understand. That it was against international law for the Americans to invade Iraq did not deter the US from attacking and destroying that country, did it? This South China Sea problem can only be resolved in the court of common sense, as the only other alternative, war, is out of the question. China is offering bilateral talks, with joint exploration and exploitation. In the world of realpolitik, what can be a better deal than that? If America can meekly accept that the Russian Air Force can kick this waning superpower out of Syria and bomb its anti-Assad proxy armies like Al-qaeda, Al nusra, ISIS, FSA etc, we can accept joint ventures with China over these uninhabitable islets, can’t we? America’s posturing in South China Sea is just a PR effort to maintain the illusion that Uncle Sam is still #1, because any sign of weakness might drive Asian powers like Japan and Korea into China’s embrace. There is no American interest that is threatened by China’s occupation of those rocky islets, therefore there is no reason for America to go to war over this issue. On the contrary, it is China, being America’s largest creditor, who holds the weapons of mass financial destruction that can accelerate the demise of the already dying American dollar, the fiat mickey mouse money that is the source of America’s wealth and power. With that Damocles sword hanging over America’s head, war is not an option over this non-issue. The Chinese know that every time Manila opens its mouth, it is only a ventriloquist’s dummy talking, and the ventriloquist is Washington, 10,000 miles away. Its time we heard the question Heneral Luna must be asking from his grave: when will we Filipinos learn to start looking out for ourselves?

  2. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    31 October 2015

    A big win for the Philippines, and a big loss or setback for China the hegemon!

    The next move will be for the Philippine Delegation to go back to The Hague, this time to argue the territorial-dispute case against china “on the merits.”

    Whether the case has merits or not will depend on how it accords with the UNCLOS, to which both the Philippines and China are signatories.

    The Philippine Delegation, led by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, and with the able assistance of International Lawyer PAUL REICHLER and others of his law firm, have made sure that the case against China is strictly and meticulously anchored on the UNCLOS.

    Given that perspective, there is a very good chance that the Arbitral Tribunal may likewise finally rule in favor of the Philippines on the merits.

    That will put China in a spot. In the event of a favorable ruling for the Philippines, it will have to dismantle all of its “reclamations” and “constructions” on those disputed islets, maritime structures and islands in the Spratlys. The question is whether or not it will do so.


  3. Mabuti ito para sa gobyerno na hindi laging naniniwala sa mga desisyon ng international law.
    Ang desisyong ito ay hindi makakapagpabago sa sitwasyon ng nangyayari sa west china sea Kahit ipadala pa ng US ang buong puersa nila dito walang pagbabago ,dahil ang unang gustong ipaalam ng US sa tao nasa pa din daw ang superpower,Meron ba itong magagawa sa kabutihan ng pilipinas,maibabalik pa ba nila ang mga isla na nahawakan na ng china?
    Paano natin ipaglalaban ang mga islang sakop ng pilipinas na nakasulat lang sa papel, ngayon ,yung mismong mga isla na kontrolado natin ay hindi man lamang pinopondohan ng gobyerno upang mapatatag pa ito at hindi naman maging kahabaghabag ang mga naninirahan sa doon?

  4. Danny Sta Cruz on

    So the high profile ‘junket’ of government officials in The Hague bears fruit after all..?

  5. In fact, It’s a victory for the Civilized Nations wherein China’s sane intiative of confucianism combined with American System and Larouche’s science of physical economy that are undeniably visible in the world stage will be the test of measurement of how china will respond.

    China’s sane leadership certainly will not turn blind of there great responsibility to our world today-Common Aims of Mankind.


  6. Clearly China is very worried that two issues are now confronting them. One is the decision by the International Tribunal Court based in Hague that it has jurisdiction over the case filed by PH on it’s dispute with China with regards to the nine dash line and US destroyer sailed close to 12 miles of the reclaimed islands. The challenge of the China’s sovereignty over all the Spratly Islands sends signal that China has to stop reclaiming islands and join PH in resolving the issue peacefully. This victory emboldens the other claimants that they too can get file charges to China. It calls the PH trouble maker but clearly the Chinese led by the Politburo Party is the trouble maker and started to reclaim reefs over thousand miles from it nearest shore. My wish is China uses its head to resolve the issue peacefully rather than by military force.

  7. John Bonifacioa on

    “Philippine scores in China Sea dispute”
    First of all, you already called it China Sea.
    Second, it is the might of the US military that is highlighted here, and the sheer weakness of the Philippines, cowering in fright, hiding behind the americans battle ships. The truth is millions of Filipinos do not care, certainly not willing to die for the country to protect the archipelago from the Chinese might. The Chinese has not threatened to invade Manila, or the main island although it has the military might to flatten Manila in a day. Or reduce Malacanang into pile of dust.

    • Either you are a Chinese, blind or on the wrong page of history my friend. Most if not all Filipinos do not like the Chinese. Otherwise millions of Filipinos would have immigrated to China. But they are in the US like most Chinese who love democracy.
      Why would say that millions of Filipinos do not care. It’s talk of the town, in the barber shop, restaurants, schools, etc. about Chinese bullying.
      Lastly, your comment that China has not threatened to invade PH. It has already invaded the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Islet. By the way their spies are already in the PH .
      If China decide to go to war they will surely have more people killed, their famous dam and great wall destroyed and they will surely be detest by peace loving countries in the world. US will rain cruise missiles to major cities in China. So China has to think twice before threatening small countries.