EXPERTS are agreed that the dispute in the South China (West Philippine) Sea will become more complicated once the international arbitration court makes its ruling on the legality of China’s “nine-dash line” claim.
Our government brought the case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague. Most experts believe that the PCA will rule in our favor. That the international court will decide, as sought by our government, that Beijing’s claims violate agreements made under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) governing territorial seas and exclusive economic zones (EEZs).
Both China and our country are signatories to UNCLOS but China has shunned the process and thus rejects the agreements reached by the international community. So any ruling made by the PCA will not make China budge from its position that the reefs and islets it claims and the reclamation and island-building it has done in Philippine seas and territories are legal—and done within its sovereign territory, never mind if these are indeed Philippine waters.
China’s strategy is to insist that everything within its map with the nine-dash line (which was, in fact, first proposed by the Republic of China before the birth of the Communist-Party-ruled People’s Republic of China in 1949) in the disputed waters belong to China. This makes everything, including reefs and islets belonging to us, the Philippines, appears to be Chinese territory. It also seems to bolster China’s claims to EEZ of 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) and territorial seas of 12 nautical miles (22 km) from the islets it has turned into islands.
As a result of the Philippine case, the PCA will make it clear exactly what the territorial claims are and, at the same time, make itself more authoritative in being the arbiter of international disputes.
But a decision favoring our country and declaring the China nine-dash line illegal or none-existent will surely anger Beijing.
China, which says it has thousands of years of history behind its ownership of the South China Sea (which includes Philippine waters) because it has used these waters and sailed to our archipelago and the other Southeast Asian islands, will not accept any international court decision.
Chinese scholars related to the PRC Foreign Ministry wrote a 17,000-word defense of the PRC position. The Manila Times published that article.
Incoming Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, who has written commentary pieces in The Manila Times, has made encouraging remarks that seem to augur peaceful relations with China under the Duterte administration.
Unlike the about-to-end Aquino administration’s DFA, Mr. Yasay has announced that he would “make sure” that “we are able to resume bilateral talks because these are necessary. I don’t think there is any other way of resolving this except by talking to each other.”
That, we understand, is basically also the Chinese point of view.
The incoming Philippine Foreign Secretary also said (as quoted in a story in the Inquirer based on its interview with Mr. Yasay) that under incoming President Duterte and with him as foreign secretary, our country will “not distance itself from its longtime security ally, the United States, but neither will it be a lackey to any foreign power.”