The arbitration initiated by the Philippines against China impugning
the validity of China’s nine-dash lines appear to be on track. Last
week, pursuant to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the
Japanese President of the international tribunal on the Law of the Sea
(ITLOS) completed the five man tribunal that will rule on the
Philippines arbitral claims. Initially, the Philippines appointed its
nominee to the panel, the German Judge at the ITLOS, Professor Rudiger
Wolfrum. Later, the ITLOS president appointed a polish academic to be
act as China’s arbitrator to the panel, Mr. Stanislaw Pawlak. Last
week, the three remaining arbitrators were appointed: Mr. Jean-Pierre
Cot of France, Mr. Chris Pinto of Sri Lanka, and Mr. Alfred Soons of
A jurist once remarked that “the law is what the Judges say it is”.
This means that while the Philippines has claimed thattChina’s
nine-dash lines is contrary to the UNCLOS, the 5 man tribunal will be
the sole judge of whether this is in fact the case. Before they can
decide the issue on the merits, they have first to rule whether the
Philippines submissions are covered by the compulsory and binding
dispute procedure under UNCLOS; that is, that it involves issues
relating to “application and interpretation” of the Convention; and
that the issues are not covered by any of China’s reservations, to
wit: disputes involving maritime delimitation; military activities,
including military activities by government vessels and aircraft
engaged in noncommercial service; and disputes concerning law
enforcement activities in regard to the exercise of sovereign rights
Since this five man tribunal will rule on whether China can treat the
South China Sea as its lake,a lot hinges on who these appointed
arbitrators are, Fortunately, in an effort perhaps to convince China
that the Tribunal will arrive at the correct decision, the ITLOS
President, despite the pending maritime disputes existing between his
own state of Japan and China, appointed perhaps the most qualified
arbitrators to rule on the issues of both jurisdiction and the merits.
Here is a short summary of who these arbitrators are:
Mr. Chris Pinto- member of the Sri Lanka bar and Barrister at the
Inner temple, London. Graduate of University of Sri Lanka
(Peradeniya), LL.B; and University of Cambridge: LL.M (International
Law). Honorary Ll. D from University of Colombo (Sri Lanka). Former
.Legal Officer, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.
(1960-1963); Attorney, World Bank, Washington, D.C. (1963-1967)The
Legal Adviser, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka.
(1967-1977)Member, Sri Lanka Delegation to the U.N. Conference on the
Law of Treaties, Vienna. (1968-1969)Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Germany
and Austria. (1977-1982)Member and Chairman, U.N. International Law
Commission, Geneva.(1973-1982) ;Member (later Chairman), Sri Lankan
Delegation, Third U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea. (1973-1982)
Secretary-General, Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, The Hague.
(1982 to present) Secretary-General, Iran-United States Claims
Member (Sri Lanka), Permanent Court of Arbitration, The
Hague.Alternate Member (Sri Lanka), International Court of Arbitration
of the International Chamber of Commerce, Paris.Sole arbitrator in
dispute between Singapore firm and Sri Lanka State Timber Corporation
(Permanent Court of Arbitration);President of Five Member Tribunal in
marine environmental dispute Between Malaysia and Singapore. (Under
Annex VII of the UNCLOS). Source: Source:
Judge Jean-Pierre Cot
Member of the Tribunal (ITLOS) since 1 October 2002; re-elected as
from 1 October 2011; President of the Chamber for Marine Environment
Disputes 2008-2011. Licence en droit, Docteur en droit public, Paris
Law Faculty (1955–1965); Agrégé des facultés de droit et des sciences
économiques (1966). Professor of public and international law and
Dean, University of Amiens (1966–1969); Professor of public and
international law, University of Paris-I (Panthéon-Sorbonne)
(1969–1998); Emeritus Professor, University of Paris-I (1999–present);
Associate Research Fellow, Université Libre de Bruxelles
(1999–present); Counsel and Advocate in a number of cases before the
International Court of Justice: Frontier Dispute (Burkina
Faso/Republic of Mali), Territorial Dispute (Libyan Arab
Jamahiriya/Chad), Kasikili/Sedudu Islands (Botswana/Namibia), Armed
activities on the territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the
Congo v. Burundi), Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and
Nigeria (Cameroon v. Nigeria), Sovereignty over Pulau Litigan and
Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia/Malaysia); Member of an arbitral tribunal of
the International Chamber of Commerce; Counsel and advocate, arbitral
tribunal, France/UNESCO; President of an arbitral tribunal established
within the framework of the European Development Fund; Judge ad hoc,
International Court of Justice, Maritime Delimitation in the Black Sea
(Romania v. Ukraine),Aerial Herbicide Spraying (Ecuador v. Colombia),
Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia) and Temple of
Preah Vihear, Interpretation (Cambodia v. Thailand).
MR.ALFRED H.A.SOONS, Studied law at Utrecht University, The
Netherlands, followed by postgraduate studies in international law at
the University of Washington (Seattle, USA) and Cambridge University
(UK). He obtained a PhD-degree at Utrecht University in 1982.
Professor of public international law and director of the Netherlands
Institute for the Law of the Sea (NILOS) at Utrecht University in
1987. Acted as counsel and arbitrator he has been involved in
international litigation at the International Court of Justice and
Judge Stanislaw Pawlak
Member of the Tribunal since 1 October 2005. Born: Kalisz, Poland, 27
September 1933; Education: Master of Law, University of Warsaw (1955);
Doctor of Law, University of Warsaw (1967); Doctor habilitated of
Political Science, University of Warsaw (1973). Professional
Experience: Legal Adviser and Analytic Officer, Polish delegation to
the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Panmunjon, Korea
(1956–1958); Attaché and Second Secretary, Polish Embassy, Tokyo
(1958–1963); Senior Counsellor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(1963–1965, 1970–1972); Deputy Chief, Polish delegation to the
International Control Commission, Saigon, Viet Nam (1965–1966); First
Secretary, Polish Embassy to the United States of America (1967–1970);
Deputy Director, Foreign Minister’s Office (1973–1975); Polish
Representative to the UN General Assembly (1973–1978, 1983–1990,
2002–2005); Associate Professor of International Relations and
International Law, Faculty of Journalism and Political Science,
University of Warsaw (1974–2001); Director, Department of
International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1975–1978);
Ambassador, Canada (1978–1983); Director, Legal and Treaty Department,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1983–1986); Head of Polish delegation,
talks with the GDR delegation on the Agreement of 22 May 1989 on
delimitation of the maritime boundary with the GDR (1983–1988); Head
of Polish delegation, talks with the USSR delegation on the
delimitation of the Polish-Soviet sea border (1985); Chairman, Polish
delegation to the Vienna diplomatic conference which drew up the draft
Convention on the law of treaties between States and international
organizations and between international organizations (1986);
Director, International Organizations Department, Ministry of Foreign
Affairs (1986–1989); Ambassador and Permanent Representative of
Poland, UN, New York (1989–1991); Visiting Professor, various
universities in the United States and Syria (1990–2001); Chairman,
group of Polish experts, talks with the delegation of experts of the
Russian Federation and delegations of experts of other interested
States on protection and conservation of marine resources of the Sea
of Okhotsk (1992–1995); Delegate of Poland to the Steering Committee
for Human Rights (CDDH), Council of Europe (1992–1995);
Deputy-Director, Legal and Treaty Department, Ministry of Foreign
Affairs (1992–1996); Chairman, Polish Delegation to the International
Conference which drew up the 1994 Convention on Protection of
Fisheries in the Bering Sea (1993–1994); Chairman, Polish Delegation
to the UN Conference for the Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and
Highly Migratory Stocks (1993–1995); Ambassador, Syrian Arab Republic
and Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (1996–2001); Adviser to the President
of the Republic of Poland (2001–2005); Titular Ambassador
(2002–present); Professor of International Relations and Public
International Law, Faculty of Journalism and Political Science,
University of Warsaw (2002–2011); Professor Emeritus, University of
Warsaw; President, thirteenth Meeting of States Parties to the
Convention (2003); Chairman, Polish delegations to the thirteenth and
fourteenth Meetings of States Parties to the Convention (2003–2004);
nominated to the List of Arbitrators under article 2 of annexes V and
VII to the Convention (2004); Professor and Dean, Faculty of Social
Science and Administration, Warsaw Academy of Computer Science and
Judge Rüdiger Wolfrum
Member of the Tribunal since 1 October 1996; re-elected as from 1
October 1999 and 1 October 2008; Vice-President of the Tribunal
1996-1999; President of the Chamber for Marine Environment Disputes
1997-1999; President of the Tribunal 2005-2008; Member of the Special
Chamber formed to deal with the Case concerning the Conservation and
Sustainable Exploitation of Swordfish Stocks in the South-Eastern
Pacific Ocean 2000-2009
Education: First State Examination (1969); Second State Examination
(1973); Dr. jur., University of Bonn (1973); Habilitation, venia
legendi for National Public and International Public Law (1980).
Professional Experience: Assistant Professor, Institute of
International Law, University of Bonn (1973–1982); Research fellow,
Center for Oceans Law and Policy, University of Virginia (1977–1978);
Professor of National Public and International Public Law, University
of Mainz (1982); Professor, Chair of National Public and International
Public Law and Director, Institute of International Law, University of
Kiel (1982–1993); Vice-Rector, University of Kiel (1990–1993); Judge
at the Courts of Appeal for Administrative Matters, Lüneburg and
Schleswig (1986–1993); Director, Max Planck Institute for Comparative
Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg (1993–present);
Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Heidelberg (1993–present);
Vice-President, German Research Foundation (1996–2002); Honorary
Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Hamburg (2002–present);
Vice-President, Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science
(2002–2005); Honorary Professor, Faculty of Law, University of
Pretoria; Member, Board of the Max Planck Foundation on International
Peace and Rule of Law (2012).
German delegation to: Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea
(1980–1982), Preparatory Commission for the International Seabed
Authority and for the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea
(1982), 4th Special Consultative Meeting concerning Antarctic mineral
resource activities (1983–1988); Chairman of the Legal Working Group
of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings preparing an Annex to
the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty on
responsibility for environmental damage (1993–1998); UN Committee on
the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (1990–2000, re-elected 1994
and 1998); Founding Member of the Humanities Section of the German
Academy of Natural Sciences (Leopoldina) (2003); Board of Trustees of
the University of Hamburg (2003–present); Chairman, Board of
theDeutsche Gesellschaft für Völkerrecht (German Society for
International Law) (2005–2009); Institut de droit international
First Signs that China Is Taking the Philippines Arbitration Seriously?
Posted: 15 Feb 2013 10:35 PM PST
by Julian Ku
As far as I can tell, the Chinese government continues to pretend as if the Philippines’ Law of the Sea arbitration claim doesn’t exist. Articles like this one suggest the Philippines government continues to wait for some official or unofficial Chinese response. The February 22 deadline for China to appoint an arbitrator is fast approaching.
There are obviously bigger things going on in the world, and in East Asia (the North Korea nuclear tests come to mind). But it is worth noting that I ran across, for the first time, an article in the Chinese press discussing the arbitration with sophistication and a very good understanding of the Annex VII process. Published in the journal “瞭望新闻周刊“ or “Outlook Newsweekly”, the article describes the views of an unnamed expert advising the Chinese government not to take the Filipino arbitration claim lightly.
The expert offers a few considerations for the Chinese government. Among other things, the expert notes that the Philippines is using this arbitration to gain support and sympathy from its neighbors (Vietnam is supporting) and its allies (US Secretary of State Kerry and the EU Parliament head support it). The claim also hypes suspicions of China at the United Nations and elsewhere.
More interestingly, the expert further notes that if China does nothing, the arbitration will still continue with the Japanese ITLOS president appointing the rest of the members. (Maybe the expert was reading Opinio Juris!). In any event, the expert advises the Chinese government to appoint an arbitrator and work hard to convince to arbitration tribunal to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Moreover, China can at any time during the arbitration work out a settlement agreement with the Philippines. (There is more to the article, but this is the key advice).
So is this is a sign of where the Chinese government is going? It seems unlikely that the musings of an unnamed expert will be very important, but who knows? At the very least, it seems as if there is some thinking on this issue going on in China. The 30 day clock continues to tick. Only six days left!
Seabed a hotbed of controversy for Philippines, China Thomas Maresca, Special for USA TODAY4:34a.m. EST January 22, 2013
China has been dispatching ships and aircraft to enforce its ownership of the South China Sea, infuriating Asian nations whose coastlines also approach the sea.
MASINLOC, Philippines — Romeo Taneo, 39, has been going to Scarborough Shoal for as long as he can remember.
The rich schools of fish such as tuna found along the chain of reefs and rocks 124 miles from shore have been fished by the people of this Philippine town for centuries. But the 2,000 fishermen of Masinloc haven’t gone there in months, not since Chinese vessels arrived to claim the shoal for China even though its coastline is 500 miles away.
“We can’t fish there anymore,” Taneo said. “Whenever we go near, the Chinese chase us away.”
China has essentially said it wants to chase every nation from the South China Sea. It has laid claim to 1 million square miles of the sea and in recent months has been dispatching ships and aircraft to enforce its ownership, infuriating Asian nations whose coastlines also approach the sea.
It’s not just for the rich sources of fish that China and others are battling. The World Bank has estimated that the seabed contains huge deposits of oil and natural gas. The sea is a major route for the world’s cargo (50% of global oil tankers pass through it). As Asia’s economies and populations grow, the food source and the energy resources of the South China Sea will become even more important.
Confrontations that have already taken place between China and its neighbors over the sea could escalate and lead to war,observers of the situation say.
“The situation is quite worrying and we’re watching it closely,” said Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, China and Northeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group. “The continuing presence of claimants’ law enforcement and fishing vessels in disputed waters are opportunities for skirmishes that may bring countries down a path they didn’t intend.”
The shoal, a triangle of rocks about 35 miles around, is one of a number of outcroppings and islands in the South China Sea that the People’s Republic of China says the Chinese discovered and claimed long ago. Scarborough is named for a British tea ship wrecked on its rocks in 1784 with no survivors.
In July, China proclaimed the creation of a Sansha, a new city on tiny Yongxing Island that would oversee jurisdiction of the Paracel, Spratly and Macclesfield Bank island groups scattered throughout the sea. In November, China issued passports with a map of China that included about 80% of the South China Sea.
Today it continues to protect Chinese fishing boats that ply shoal waters, even though the shoal is well within the Philippines’ a 200-mile zone that all coastal nations can claim as exclusively theirs according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines have claims to parts of the sea, and some have complained to the United Nations and the USA for help in dealing with China’s ownership announcement.
Tensions were high in April when the Philippines tried to act against China. Chinese vessels prevented a Philippine naval warship from pushing out Chinese fishing boats accused of poaching protected species such as sea turtles. Eventually both fleets agreed to go home, but Chinese marine surveillance vessels soon returned and remain. The vessels went as far as to rope off the entrance to Scarborough lagoon.
Caught in the geopolitical standoff are fishermen up and down Zambales, a province on the west coast of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines.
“We’re afraid to go to Scarborough now,” said Francis Alaras, who has been fishing for 15 years out of Subic Bay. “Even the Coast Guard is afraid to go there.”
Taneo said he used to take in $250 to $500 in a good week catching grouper, Spanish mackerel and tropical aquarium fish around Scarborough. Now he might earn $50 in waters nearer the coast. Some fishermen journey several extra hours to avoid the Chinese-occupied area, burning additional fuel and squeezing their ability to make a profit.
What puzzles many in Masinloc is the suddenness of the change. Taneo said fishermen from several countries used to fish at Scarborough without incident, at times even boarding each other’s vessels to swap local delicacies and liquor.
“Why now?” he said.
Harry Roque Jr., a professor of law at the University of the Philippines, urged Manila to bring the Scarborough case before the U.N.’s International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which could issue a binding provisional decision. China and the Philippines are both signatories to the treaty.
“It would be the perfect way to defuse the tension if there is in fact a provisional measure,” Roque said. “Of course there’s no guarantee China will comply with it, but I think it’s very clear that in modern history no state wants to be branded a violator of international law.”
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has also called for international arbitration in the Scarborough standoff.
“While we are at a disadvantage in terms of our resources and capabilities, it is our belief that international law is the great equalizer and that right is might,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Philippine foreign secretary said that he has summoned China’s ambassador in the Philippines to inform her that Manila is seeking arbitration at an international tribunal. Del Rosario said the Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of maritime disputes with China, and hopes that the arbitral proceedings will bring results.
China, however, has said it would not accept an international judgment and will only resolve the matter in one-on-one talks with individual countries, which its smaller neighbor the Philippines says puts it at a severe disadvantage.
The conflict has gotten the Philippines to turn for help to a former hated enemy, Japan, whose occupation of the Philippines during World War II is not forgotten here. Last week Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida pledged 10 patrol ships and communications equipment for the Philippines coast guard, according to media reports. Japan is fending off similar territorial claims that China his pressing over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
The United States has stayed neutral in the territorial disputes, saying only that they should be resolved through negotiation. The USA and the Philippines held discussions in December that del Rosario says should result in an increased naval rotational presence in the Philippines that “will serve to guarantee peace and stability in the region.”
Murray Hiebert, deputy director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says U.S. interests lie most clearly lie in maintaining the unrestricted movement of trade in the South China Sea.
“Freedom of navigation is absolutely critical,” he said. “A whole lot of oil and iPads move through there.”
China shows little sign of backing down, however.
In November, the Chinese province of Hainan said it police vessels may board and search foreign ships that “illegally” enter Chinese waters.
“If China persists in its view that (the South China Sea) is a Chinese lake, then we’re headed for conflict,” Roque said. “And I think every single nation on earth that wants to use the seas will have an interest in it.”
For now, solutions seem scarce. Some observers suggested that joint development of fishing and hydrocarbons in disputed areas is a reasonable way forward. But the charged environment is making cooperation increasingly difficult.
“If the political will were present, (joint development) would be possible,” said Robert Beckman, director of the Center for International Law at National University of Singapore. “However, under the present political climate, it seems unlikely.”
In Masinloc, the fishermen are looking to the future with a characteristically Filipino blend of fatalism and optimism. Masinloc’s fishery officer, Jerry Escape, says people are looking at other ways to earn a living, such as establishing more fish hatcheries to increase fish stocks closer to shore and promote tourism of its pristine areas.
“We will find a way,” he said. “We are Filipinos. That is what we do.”
China appears to be applying the law literally. The rule is where there is a dispute to territory, the claimant that can show a superior claim to the same, be it land or water, will be adjudged as having title thereto.
In land territory, the rule is that discovery alone gives rise to an inchoate title that must be perfected through effective occupation. The latter entails submission of evidence that the disputed testimony was subject to the exercise of both sovereignty and jurisdiction. Some evidence recognized by tribunals as proof of effective occupation would include the simple act of hoisting the flag in small and desolate island territories, and such acts as the grant of concessions, appending the disputed territory to a local government unit, and proof that institutions such as the courts or civil register were functioning in the disputed area.
This is why China has recently been attempting to bolster its claim to both the Kalayaan Group of islands and Panatag. Very recently, it created a new municipality, Sansha, that would exercise jurisdiction over the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea. This is also why it has recently built a structure on yet another disputed island within our Kalayaan group of islands, the Subi Reef. The order to send a 30 boat armada of Chinese fishermen is also to bolster their claim that the waters have been the subject of acquired fishing rights by its nationals.
But will China’s recent acts actually result in its desired result of bolstering its territorial claims?
Justice Holmes remarked that the life of the law is not logic; it has been experience. As early as the leading case of Palmas, an arbitration where the Americans lost Palmas Island to us, the lone arbitrator came out with a judicial technique, the “critical date” which has been adopted by other tribunals. Under this technique, international tribunals resolving territorial disputes will ignore all acts of claimants to territories after the “critical date”. This date, in turn, is the time when the controversy first arose between the parties. It is the moment in time when the parties have advanced conflicting claims of title over the disputed territory. It is when the parties officially joined the issues albeit out-of-court.
In the Palmas case, the lone arbitrator disregarded evidence offered by the parties after the critical date because human experience tell us that all such evidence would be self-serving. After a controversy has arisen, it is only reasonable for both parties to strengthen—rather than weaken—their respective claims. This is why after all the claimants to Kalayaan publicly advanced their claims to the islands, all of them took steps to bolster their respective claims of effective occupation over the islands.
When is the critical date to the Spratlys?
It would appear to vary depending on which state is making the claim. France claimed the islands in 1933 . This was met with protests from China, Japan, and even Great Britain. All those that protested the claim of France hence articulated their own basis for title to the islands. It would seem that for China and Vietnam, the latter as the successor state of France, the critical date would be 1933. But for the Philippines, the critical date would be in the 1950s after Thomas Cloma claimed discovery over the islands that he described as “res nullius”—belonging to no one. The critical date for both Malaysia and Brunei, since their claims are anchored only on the regime of the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone under the UNCLOS, would be in 1984, the year when the convention took effect.
Of course it is still important for the Philippines to repeatedly protest all these subsequent acts of effective occupation. Failure to protest may lead to estoppel. The international community recognizes international law as such because it forms part of a normative system. Here, its normative content is the preservation of international peace and security. The concept of “critical date” exists precisely to minimize the threat or the actual use of force. Were it not for this technique, claimant countries to disputed territory may resort to shooting whenever a claimant takes steps to bolster its claim after the “critical date.” Because of this technique, claimants are assured that acts that transpired after the controversy may mean nothing in the resolution of the controversy and hence need not result in a gunfight.
I am concerned that many of our countrymen, including those in the media, appear to be agitated with news of what China has been doing lately. Fortunately, we need not lose our cool since all these may be for naught.
Like President Aquino, let’s keep our cool.
It is wrong for the government not to file a diplomatic protest over the Chinese naval vessel that was recently grounded 111 nautical miles from Hasa-Hasa in Palawan. No, the protest should not be that it grounded. Surely, a diplomatic protest cannot address the Chinese mariner’s obvious lack of familiarity with the dangerous waters surrounding the Spratlys group of islands; a fact that militates against their so-called ancient claim to the area. The protest should be over what the navy vessel was doing in our waters in the first place: patrolling.
Sovereign states could not exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction in the exclusive economic zone since their so-called sovereign right is limited to the right to explore and exploit the resources found thereat. Still, foreign naval vessels, particularly in disputed territory, have no business patrolling the same. It should have been Philippine vessels from either the coast guard or our navy that should have been patrolling these waters in the first place.
The failure to protest the activity of Chinese vessels militates against our own claim because underiInternational law, the principle of estoppel has not only been consistently applied; it has also been ruled to be sufficient to extinguish title to territory even if one originally existed. For instance, in the case of the Preah Villar temple which was then disputed between Thailand and Cambodia, the International Court of Justice ruled the temple to be within the territory of Cambodia because. In the early 1900’s, Thai authorities did not protest a map showing the temple to be in what was then the territory of France and today, of Cambodia.
Likewise, estoppel has been applied in the Eastern Greenland case between Norway and Denmark. There, the Permanent Court of International Justice cited Norway’s recognition of Danish title over Eastern Greenland when it recognized such title as embodied in the so-called Ilian declaration. In fact, estoppel, defined as a rule of evidence whereby a person or a state is precluded from denying the truth of a statement of facts he or it has previously asserted -has been accepted as a general principle of law in international law. Further, estoppel has oftentimes enabled states to prove a superior claim to disputed territory where both claimants are able to invoke almost identical evidence of effective occupation. It is hence the legal principle that has tilted the balance in favor of one state in a dispute where both parties have equiponderance of evidence.
The fact that we have recently been filing quite a number of protests over recent Chinese aggression and hegemony in the Panatag Shoal should be of no consequence. The law, after all, does not put a cap on how many of these protests we can file. We should not limit the number of these protests. Instead, we should always protest when there is a legal ground, and document them properly since they constitute strong evidence of title. This is because they form clear evidence that we have been asserting our claims through the means recognized by diplomacy as the proper form: a diplomatic protest. It is when we stop making these protests that we may be ruled as either abandoning our rights, or sitting on them.
In any case, this is not the only time when we should have protested Chinese incursion into our territory. Not too long ago, the international media reported a collision between an American destroyer and a Chinese submarine off the coast of Zambales.
Instead of protesting that incident, the Arroyo administration opted to sweep it under the rug and neither confirmed nor denied the incident. Perhaps, what worried the former administration was adverse public opinion that the Visiting Forces Agreement — that has enabled American ships to dock and navigate through our waters — could in fact increase the probability of military confrontation between the world’s lone superpower and the region’s military giant. While we do not know exactly where that collision occurred –as the Arroyo administration in fact claimed that it took place in international waters — the reality is that bereft of underwater scanners and facilities that would enable us to determine the presence of Chinese submarines, we will not know if they are in our waters. Note that while all submarines could exercise innocent passage even in our territorial waters, defined as 12 nautical miles from our coast. Still, the requirement is that they must surface. In any case, the presence of submarines and other military vessels patrolling disputed EEZ are not innocent. They constitute a threat to our national security.
What is clear is that once more, our policy makers opted to be very Filipino in their recent conduct: opting not to add further coal to a burning fire. The only problem here is meanwhile, our adversary appears happy to pour gas onto the flames.
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China’s failure to remove its vessels from Panatag Shoal is clear evidence of Chinese shadow play in the resolution of the dispute. Remember that about a month ago, Chinese authorities declared a fishing ban in the area for a period of two and a half months. Philippine authorities, in an effort to calm the standoff, followed suit and declared a similar ban. But contrary to the ban, no less than 20 Chinese fishing boats remain in the lagoon of the shoal, an area that is approximately as big as Quezon City. This number is in addition to no less than three Chinese government vessels in the area. This is clear doublespeak.
Despite China’s doublespeak, President Aquino still ordered our two remaining government vessels in the area to leave. The pretext was the onslaught of a powerful typhoon. But diplomatic pundits do not buy this. They say that the real reason is that our policy makers probably miscalculated that China, like us, would want to reduce the tension the area. They hoped that Chinese authorities would reciprocate the order for our vessels to leave. This did not happen.
At least, it is now clear that China does not intend, or wish, to scale down its action. It is also now clear that China will not settle for anything less than our relinquishment of our claim to the shoal. This is their desired end-result when they espouse a “diplomatic” solution to the standoff.
The question in our mind is why is China taking this position only now? And why the brazenness of its acts?
Observers posit that China’s actuations are a precursor of further trouble to come. The real battle ground is Recto Bank where we are about to drill for oil. Our responses to Chinese provocation in the shoal will in turn determine their future actuations in Recto Bank. On the basis of their current track record in the shoal, we should expect the Chinese to send its entire Armada to Recto should we persist in our effort to drill for oil in the area. Already, China has announced that it would conduct military exercises aimed at defending their perceived right to explore for mineral deposits in the West Philippine Sea. This is a clear message that China will use its recently acquired military might to defend its interest in these troubled waters.
It is imperative for Philippine policymakers now to acknowledge this state of affairs. Yes, diplomacy is the preferred mode of international dispute settlement. But this is only when the parties to the dispute observe good faith in their negotiations to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute. It cannot be the solution when the Chinese view is that diplomacy should only result in our recognition of their claim to the area.
I have consistently argued hence that the only recourse for the country is to resort to the binding and mandatory dispute settlement procedure of the UNCLOS. The question was asked recently in a forum sponsored by the Ortigas library on why the Philippines has not brought the matter earlier to this dispute settlement body.
Professor Randy David had a notable observation. President Gloria Arroyo, according to him, courted Chinese support precisely by sitting on our options in asserting our national territory. This appears plausible given that instead of asserting our sovereignty, PGMA and her cohorts at the DFA and other line agencies—many of whom have recycled themselves as being pro-P Noy today—allowed the Chinese to engage, among others, in the exploration of our natural resources through the Joint Maritime Seismic and Exploration Agreement of the West Philippines Seas and the grant of mining grants in Diwalwal and North Davao to the company behind the botched National Broadband Network, ZTE Corporation. This is, many believe, in return for the many fraudulent Chinese funded projects entered into by the Arroyo regime, including the Northrail contract and the NBN-ZTE deal. In short, it was territory in exchange for pay-offs, or “tongpats.”
It is hoped that President Aquino will hence assert Philippine sovereignty in territories that are in fact ours. The starting point is a clear and unequivocal declaration from a body such as the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea on which country is entitled to explore and exploit the natural resources in Panatag and in the Kalayaan group of islands.
America is now an ex-superpower. First, it ceased to be the biggest economy in the world. It is now only the second-biggest economy. China has long overtaken it and the tables have been turned. Communist China has not only become an economic tiger; it has also become the biggest creditor of capitalist America.
And the decline of superpower America goes beyond economics. With China’s recent foray into bullyism (yes, I invented that word) in the West Philippines Sea, it has allowed China to challenge its pre-eminence in the Pacific front. This used to be its bastion since World War II. This was why despite granting the Philippines nominal independence, it insisted on utilizing the country as an unsinkable military carrier with take-off points at Clark and Subic. These were bases that used to be its biggest military installations outside the mainland US.
Today, it is longer the US Navy that is feared in this part of the world. It is now the Chinese Navy that lords it over in these waters. First it took possession of Mischief Reef in the disputed Kalayaan groups of islands from Filipino soldiers then assigned in the island. Today, it has effectively driven away all Filipino presence in Panatag Shoal, an area that is literally the backwaters of the province of Zambales. And if the respected journalist Chito Santamaria is correct, China is not just interested in the fishing waters around Panatag. The real battleground, according to Chito, is Recto Bank where Manny Pangilinan is about to drill for oil.
Amidst this newfound Chinese expansionism, where is America? Well, at the first sign of a conflict, Hilary Clinton declared that it would take a neutral stance and urged a peaceful settlement of the dispute. Later, when the standoff persisted, she declared during a US Senate concurrence hearing on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that China’s claims to the vast waters of the West Philippine Sea exceeded what is allowed under international law. And recently, when President Noynoy Aquino went to the US begging anew for help, no less than President Barack Obama was clearly non-committal. This is apparent in a White House release after the meeting between Obama and PNoy stating, among others, that the two leaders merely agreed on “firm support for a collaborative diplomatic process among claimants to resolve territorial disputes in a manner consistent with international law and without coercion or the use of force.”
Make no mistake about it. Uncle Joe can’t be counted upon to deal with China- the bully.
Central to American foreign policy is that as the lone superpower of the world, it can be counted upon to maintain peace and order in this planet. At the very least, if its economic woes have become so bad that it can no longer play the role of superman, it should have sufficient resources to stand by its long-standing ally when needed. But no, nowadays, the American position is for its allies to swim or sink. Full stop.
This is not to say that the American position is wrong. I for one have never believed that mother America will ever come to our rescue solely to defend our interests. This is why I have been a long supporter of the likes of Claro M. Recto and Jovito R. Salonga, who believed no one can be counted to uphold Philippine interest but us -Filipinos.
Still, this lackadaisical manner by which America seems to regard the recent threat of Chinese expansionism is a major change in its foreign policy.
Make no mistake about it. While America couldn’t care less about the West Philippine Sea, it will come back to Subic and Clark not to defend us; but to uphold its own national interest. This is why it is in the process of sending 60 percent of its navy forces to Asia. Malacañang, I’m sure would want to take credit for this. But nope, this has been in the offing even before our recent controversy with China. At most, perhaps, the actual deployment of these forces to Asia was hastened by the dispute. They will come though not because Scarborough and the Spratly islands are ours. They will come because China’s claims to these territories may precisely hinder deployment of their ships into these waters.
We, unfortunately, are irrelevant to their policy.