China is challenging UNCLOS


Following is an excerpt from my discussion in the recently concluded 5th Annual Meeting of the Japan Society of International Law held last June 15, 2014 at Chuo University in Tokyo.

China’s snub of the Philippine arbitral claim on the West Philippine Sea and its slew of building projects on disputed reefs in the area are aserious and belligerent violations of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which it is a party.

Its refusal to participate in the arbitration and its unilateral acts in building artificial islands in the disputed maritime area of the Spratlys constitute a serious breach of the UNCLOS. As a party to the Convention, China agreed to refer all matters involving interpretation and application of the UNCLOS to the compulsory and binding dispute settlement procedure of the Convention.

The international community took a very long time to agree on the provisions of UNCLOS because all countries of the world wanted the Convention to be the “constitution for the seas”. By prohibiting reservations and by adopting all provision on the basis of consensus, it was the intention of the world community to do away with the use of force and unilateral acts in the resolution of all disputes arising from maritime territory.

The view expressed recently by Judge Xue Hanquin, the Chinese Judge in the International Court of Justice, that states that made declarations when they ratified the UNCLOS, China included, are “deemed to have opted out of the dispute settlement procedure of the Convention” is erroneous. Proof of this is that China subsequently made reservations only as to specific subject matters from the jurisdiction of the dispute settlement procedures. This proves that China agreed to be bound by the procedure and hence, it is under a very clear obligation to participate in the proceedings, if only to dispute the jurisdiction of the Tribunal.

More worrisome is China’s recent resort to the use of force in bolstering its claim to the disputed territories.

It has been reported recently that China has been building artificial islands in Johnson South Reef and expanding its artificial island in Fiery Cross reef, and deploying its naval forces to ward off any opposition.

These construction are happening in the face of China’s snub of the arbitral proceedings which precisely impugns China’s legal rights to do so. Clearly, China’s conduct is not only illegal as prohibited use of force, but is also contemptous of the proceedings.

The Philippines initiated proceedings under the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedure to declare that China’s nine-dash lines is illegal since it is not sanctioned by the UNCLOS. The Philippine claim also asked the Hague-based arbitral tribunal that four “low-water elevations,” so-called because they are only visible during low tide, and where China has built artificial islands, be declared as part of the continental shelf of the Philippines, and that the waters outside of the 12 nautical miles of Panatag shoal be declared as part of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

China’s claim is that the waters within the nine-dash lines are generated by land territory and hence, the controversy cannot be resolved under the UNCLOS. But clearly, the three specific prayers of the Philippines involve only issues of interpretation and application of specific provisions to UNCLOS relating to internal waters, territorial sea, Exclusive Economic Zones, islands, and low tide elevations. While the Spratlys dispute without a doubt also involves land territory, this is not the subject of the Philippines’ claim.

The Chinese academic in the conference, Prof. Zhang Xinjun of Tsinghua University, characterized the Philippine arbitral claim as a “mixed claim” because it involves both claims to sovereignty arising from land territory and not just purely maritime territory. This, he explained, is why the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal lacks jurisdiction over the Philippine claim. He likened the Philippine proceeding to that initiated by Mauritius against the United Kingdom. In this case, which is also pending, the UK has argued that the dispute settlement proceedings of UNCLOS should not apply because the disputed maritime territory are generated by land territory.

The Japanese academic, Prof. Nishimoto Kentaro of Tohoku University, on the other hand, expressed reservations whether the Philippines could prevail in impugning China’s title to all four islands where it has built artificial islands, two of which the Philippines claims, should form part of its continental shelf. The Japanese academic observed that since two of these islands are within the 200 nautical miles of Ito Iba Island, currently under the control of Taiwan, these two may not be declared as part of the international sea bed.

He supported, however, the Philippines’ position on the nine-dash lines arguing that in seeking a declaration of nullity of these lines, the Philippines was not engaged in maritime delimitation, but in an action for a declaration of rights, which is an issue of interpretation and application of the UNCLOS. He characterized the Philippines position against the Nine-Dash lines as “very strong”.

Japan is also engaged in its own territorial dispute with China over Senkaku Island.

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UP PROF: “CHINA CHALLENGING UNCLOS”


REF. Atty Romel Bagares 09166679802

China’s snub of the Philippine arbitral claim on the West Philippine Sea and its slew of building projects on disputed reefs in the area are “a serious and belligerent violation of” the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which it is a member, according to an outspoken Filipino legal academic at an international law conference in Tokyo.

Speaking at the 5th Annual Meeting of the Japan Society of International law at the Chuo University Law School last Sunday, University of the Philippines professor Harry L. Roque Jr. said that China’s refusal to participate in the arbitration and its unilateral acts in building artificial islands in the disputed maritime area of the Spratly’s constitutes a “serious breach of the UNCLOS since as a party to the Convention, China agreed to refer all matters involving interpretation and application of the UNCLOS to the compulsory and binding dispute settlement procedure of the Convention”.

Roque, who is also Director of the UP Law Center’s Institute of international Legal Studies, said that the international community took a very long time to agree on the provisions of UNCLOS because all countries of the world wanted the Convention to be the “constitution for the seas”.

“By prohibiting reservations and by adopting all provision on the basis of consensus, it was the intention of the world community to do away with the use of force and unilateral acts in the resolution of all disputes arising from maritime territory,” said Roque.

Debunking the view expressed recently by Judge Xue Hanquin, the Chinese Judge in the International Court of Justice that states that made declarations when they ratified the UNCLOS, China included, are deemed to have opted out of the dispute settlement procedure of the Convention, Roque noted that China’s subsequent reservations only as to specific subject matters from the jurisdiction of the dispute settlement procedures proves that China agreed to be bound by the procedure. “This means that China is under a very clear obligation to participate in the proceedings, if only to dispute the jurisdiction of the Tribunal,” Roque said.

More worrisome, according to Roque, is China’s recent resort to the use of force in bolstering its claim to the disputed territories.

It has been reported recently that China has been building artificial islands in Johnson South Reef and expanding its artificial island in Fiery Cross reef, and deploying its naval forces to ward off any opposition.

“These construction are happening in the face of China’s snub of the arbitral proceedings which precisely impugns China’s legal rights to do so. Clearly, China’s conduct is not only illegal as prohibited use of force, but is also contemptous of the proceedings”, Roque said.

The Philippines is the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea to declare that China’s nine-dash lines is illegal since it is not sanctioned by the UNCLOS. The Philippine claim also asked the Hague -based arbitral tribunal that four “low-water elevations,” so-called because they are only visible during low tide, and where China has build artificial islands, be declared as part of the continental shelf of the Philippines, and that the waters outside of the 12 nautical miles of Panatag shoal be declared as part of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

Roque belied China’s claim that the waters within the nine-dash lines are generated by land territory and hence, the controversy cannot be resolved under the UNCLOS. “Clearly, the three specific prayers of the Philippines involve interpretation and application of specific provisions to UNCLOS relating to internal waters, territorial sea, Exclusive Economic Zones, islands, and low tide elevations. While the Spratlys dispute without a doubt also involves land territory, these are not the subjects of the Philippines claim, Roque added.

The Chinese academic in the conference, Prof. Zhang Xinjun of Tsinghua University, characterized the Philippine arbitral claim as a “mixed claim” because it involves both claims to sovereignty arising from land territory and not just purely maritime territory. This, he explained, is why the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal lacks jurisdiction over the Philippine claim. He likened the Philippine proceeding to that initiated by Mauritius against the United Kingdom. In this case, while it is also pending, the UK has argued that the dispute settlement proceedings of UNCLOS should not apply because the disputed maritime territory are generated by land territory.

The Japanese academic, Prof. NIishimoto Kentaro of Tohoku University, on the other hand, expressed reservations whether the Philippines could prevail in impugning China’s title to all four islands, which the Philippines claimed should form part of the Philippine continental shelf. At least two of these islands are within the 200 nautical miles of Ito Iba Island, currently under the control of Taiwan, and thus may not form part of the Philippine continental shelf, according to the Japanese academic.

He supported however the Philippines position on the nine-dash lines arguing that in seeking a declaration of nullity of these lines, the Philippines was not engaged in maritime delimitation, but in an action for a declaration of rights, which is an issue of interpretation and application of the UNCLOS. He characterized the Philippines position against the Nine-Dash lines as “very strong”.

Japan is also engaged in its own territorial dispute with China over Senkaku Island.

Prof. Roque’s power point presentation at the conference may be found in http://www.harryroque.com

On Ayungin: Conquest No Longer Valid Means to AcquireTerritory


 

Even if China were to remove the Sierra Madre from Ayungin shoal and build yet another artificial island there, it will never acquire title over the area. The reason: International Law has long outlawed the acquisition of territory through conquest.

China also better rethink whether it should tow-awau a commissioned naval vessel. Derelicit as it may be, it is subject to full sovereign immunity and any attempt to tow it away from Ayungin may finally trigger the applicability of the US-Phil Mutual Defence Treaty. Thus far the US has said that the Treaty may not be triggered by fighting in the West Philippine Sea becauae it does not recognize Philippine title to the area. But an attack against a Philippine comissioned naval vessel may be sufficient for the purpose. The result: the West Philippine Sea, unless China backs off, may trigger the biggest armed conflict in the region since the Vietnam and Indo-China conflict.

China’s retaliation?


Former Secretary Raffy Alunan warned on ANC this week that China will retaliate in response to our filing of our Memorial in our  pending arbitration against China under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Citing the earlier move of China in banning the entry of our bananas into their territory, Alunan warned that China’ s retaliation could be in the form of further economic sanctions and worse, even sabotage. Referring to the possibility of the latter, Alunan warned that the Chinese could resort to sabotage of our power grid, since the National Power Grid Corporation is 40% owned by a Chinese company. He also warned about possible cyber attacks against our networks.  A pro-China advocate has dismissed Alunan’s warnings as unlikely. I prefer not to dismiss the warnings as in fact; history has shown that nothing is impossible in the field of international relations. Who would have thought that the United States would persist in its illegal occupation of Iraq? Neither did we expect that Russia would be so brazen as to annex Crimea?   Simply put, we have to prepare for China’s retaliations, whatever form it may take.

Alunan was actually warning about two things: one, China’s unwavering claim to the nine-dash lines; which will persist whether or not we continue with our arbitration. Second, the fact that China has not been shy in telling the world that it takes offense to the fact that it was sued before an international tribunal. Judge Xue Henquin explained in the Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law that this was a “cultural” trait of the Chinese. They just don’t like to be sued.

Alunan’s warnings therefore should be qualified. Insofar as the Chinese claim to the West Philippine Sea is concerned, China will not only resort to sanctions and sabotage in order to defend its claim. In fact, its published defense policy is to develop sea-denial capability in the West Philippines Sea from 2010 to 2020. This means that it will not have second thoughts in ousting countries, even through the illegal use of force, that it views as “intruders” in the disputed islands and shoals in the Spratlys and Panatag. On the other hand, given China’s antipathy towards the arbitration, which, if the Tribunal assumes jurisdiction will surely result in judgment against it, China will apply, all sorts of pressure for the country to withdraw the same. This is where the sanctions and sabotage may come to play, as warned by Alunan.

In any case, Alunan’s warning about the sabotage on our power grid deserves serious attention. With allegations of price fixing now hounding our power producers, Congress should seriously re-examine its earlier view that power generation and distribution are not in the nature of public convenience. Had they been as such as in fact they are, the state could have exercised the necessary regulation that could have prevented these allegations of price fixing today. Moreover, power generation and distribution are franchises. They are for the public with the latter as end users. Ergo, both businesses are hence vested with the public interest and hence, their entitlement to engage in these kind of business should be in the nature of a privilege and not a right. The consequence of this would be an outright revocation of their franchise if the allegations of price fixing could be proven.

In any case, while I fully concur with Alunan that the Philippines should be weary of China’s retaliation, perhaps we should still not be too alarmed on the consequences of the filing of our memorial due on the 30th of this month.

I think what China objects to is the initiation of the arbitral proceedings itself and not the memorial per se. In fact the Chinese, through Judge Xue, considers the arbitration as a “substantive breach” of the code of conduct agreed upon by China and ASEAN. What baffles me on this point is how China can complaint that a peaceful resort to peaceful arbitration can be a breach of a treaty obligation while at the same time, resorting to the firing of water canons at unarmed Filipino subsistence fishermen as being in compliance with the said code of conduct.

One final point. Alunan said that the barring of Philippine bananas was because of the initiation of the arbitration proceedings. This is not the case. The resort to non-0-trade barriers against our bananas was an offshoot of our navy boat arresting Chinese fishermen in Panatag. Fortunately, while China can resort to this anew, it will not be as easy as it was in the past. This is because meanwhile, ASEAN and China entered into a bilateral investment agreement that grants protection to both our investments and export products. This means that it will be expensive for China to bar entry of any of our export commodities henceforth. This courtesy of the ASEAN Investment treaty with China.

(as published in the column of Atty. Harry L. Roque Jr. in Manila Standard Today, 27 March 2014)

 

China’s thrust for Ayungin and Marinduque’s options


The news reported that China had recently blocked delivery of food supplies to our troops holed up in a derelict US ship in Ayungin shoal. To many, this is another first since it is the very first concrete step taken by China to take possession of the disputed shoal from us. In reality, though, this recent act is but another manifestation of China’s long-term overall maritime policy in relation to the West Philippine Sea and the rest of the world.

China’s defense and maritime policies are contained in several printed policy papers beginning in 1998. This was updated in April 2013 and is entitled “The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces.” According to this document, the Chinese policy is to “safeguard its border and promote its coastal security.” The document states that the role of Chinese armed forces is “to defend and exercise jurisdiction over China’s land borders and sea areas.” In the same paper, China regards the West Philippine seas as its coastal waters, the defense of which enjoys the same priority as quashing any attempt at achieving independence of Taiwan and opposing calls for the right to self-determination of Tibet.

Unlike the Philippines, China has a printed policy paper on its short-, medium- and long-term maritime policy. Its overall objective is to resurrect China’s old glory of being a world maritime power by 2050. Meanwhile, it is pursuing two short- and medium-term goals: during the first phase concluding in 2000, the People’s Liberation Army shall have acquired sea-control power within its coastal waters. During the second phase, which is from 2010-2020, the PLA shall have achieved a kind of sea-denial capability within its first island chain in the West Pacific, the West Philippine Sea. It is precisely this second goal which explains China’s recent actions in Ayungin. If the printed maritime policies are to be followed, this means in fact that China will not only take control and possession of Ayungin, it aims also to occupy all other disputed islands, shoals and reef, even the biggest island under our occupation, Kalayaan. The issue is not if, but when it will actually do so.

It is precisely this maritime defense policy that gives urgency to an early resolution of our arbitral claims now pending with the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Unless the tribunal rules on the validity of China’s nine-dash lines, China will implement its 50-year maritime policy in a manner that treats the entirety of the West Philippines Sea encompassed by these lines as its internal and territorial waters. For what it’s worth, the initiation of the arbitration will be remembered forever as PNoy’s best foreign policy initiative.

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I have been to the island of Marinduque twice in a time span of a month, The reason is to explain the $20-million dollar offer made by Barrick Gold, the biggest gold mining company in the world, to settle the suit of the province filed against it in 2005 currently pending in a Federal Court of Nevada.

Since I am not qualified to practice in the United States, my participation in the lawsuit was only as an expert witness on the binding nature of international environmental law to the United States. One of the cornerstones of environmental law is the so-called “polluter pays principle”, which mandates that entities that cause pollution must pay for the clean-up.

The US Coast Guard has estimated that no less than 100 million dollars is required to clean up the 200 million tons of mine tailings dumped into the island’s rivers and waters. The problem though is that meanwhile, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case of Kiobel vs., Shell that henceforth US courts should  not exercise jurisdiction over claims against foreign corporation for acts which did not take place in the territory of the United States. Kiobel was s a case under the Alien Tort Claims act that authorizes US courts to exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction against respondents found in the US for violations of International Law. This statute has been utilized since the 1980s as a means to hold despots responsible for their acts of extralegal killings, torture and enforced disappearances since the case of Filartiga involving a former Panamanian despot. This was also the cause of action of the martial law victims against the estate of Marcos.

In 2013, the US Supreme Court in Kiobel held that henceforth, US courts cannot exercise jurisdiction versus foreign corporations for torts committed overseas solely because these foreign corporations’ shares are listed in the stock market in the US or because they have a commercial presence in the US. Today, the US Supreme Court requires the following as the test for the exercise of US jurisdiction: Do they “touch and concern the territory of the United States . . . with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application?”

Unfortunately, much as I would want a higher settlement for Marinduque, the pending case against Barrick appears to be barred by the test of Kiobel. This is because Barrick is a Canadian company and the acts that led to the environmental damage were done in the Philippines. Sad to say, the province has become of the many victims of the Kiobel test. But hey, $20 million dollars is still about a billion pesos. This is hardly a sum of money that can be considered peanuts to to a province that earns only P200 million annually.

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Request for Coverage: Activities to Mark the Relaunch of the Philippine Society of International Law


THE MEDIA IS REQUESTED TO COVER THE FOLLOWING EVENTS AT THE UP LAW CENTER TO MARK THE REVIVAL OF THE PHILIPPINE SOCIETY OF INTERNATIONAL LAW:

Round Table on the West Philippine Sea Arbitration
Solicitor -General Francis Jardeleza: Keynote Speaker
Reactors:
Dean Merlin Magallona
Dean Raul Pangalangan
Prof. H., Harry L. Roque
February 27, 1PM at the 2nd floor conference room, UP Law Center, Bocobo Hall, UP Diliman
Focused Group Discussion on the ASEAN Common Market
February 28, 2014
9AM, 2nd flr. conference room, UP Law Center, Bocobo Hall, UP Diliman
Please confirm attendance with Au Tolentino, 9293654