DAVO CITY (MindaNews/15 September) — The Philippine government will rely on the support of the international community if the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in The Hague, the Netherlands decides in favor of the Philippines over a territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea, a foreign affairs official said Tuesday.
China had insisted it has “indisputable sovereignty” over contested isles in the West Philippine Sea as its “traditional fishing grounds”, and had shunned the arbitration process.
During the Multi-Sectoral Forum on the West Philippine Sea held at the NCCC Mall of Davao, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Charles C. Jose said China, the world’s second largest economy, has to respect such ruling if it wants to be seen as a leader in the region.
“At the beginning, when we filed an arbitration case, China said that they do not accept the arbitration process and they will not respect and comply with whatever decision that tribunal will come up with,” he said.
He added other countries would support the position of the Philippines in the sea row with China, as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides for an exclusive economic zone of 200 miles from a country’s coastline.
Jose said China’s nine-dash line takes up 80 percent of the West Philippine Sea and 85 percent of South China Sea.
The official was confident the tribunal will favor the Philippines’ position over China’s nine-dash line, which is based on the latter’s historical claims. Otherwise, he said, it would lead to chaos on the exclusivity of maritime territories of other countries.
Disputes on maritime boundaries are supposedly settled through UNCLOS, dubbed the “constitution of the oceans,” he said.
He assured the Philippines could get the backing of the international community, as they expressed their support during the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting last month in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, East Asian Summit, and Asean Regional Forum.
During the East Asian Summit in August, also in Kuala Lumpur, he said 13 out of 18 member countries expressed concern over the South China Sea. The EAS includes member countries of the Asean.
“All of them spoke of South China Sea and all of them expressed their concern on what’s happening in the South China Sea. Without necessarily pointing at China, they are saying that the reclamation activity that is being done there is the cause of the tensions in the region,” he said.
Jose said the international community has even called on China to stop its reclamation, construction, and militarization activities in the disputed waters.
“You would find all the countries would agree with the position of the Philippines,” he said.
But Jose said that even if China would cave in to the pressures, it will take years before China gets its hands off the disputed waters.
“Naniniwala kami na China will eventually come around. Pero hindi ito magiging overnight na gratification. It does not mean na kung magdecide ang tribunal na may basis ang claim natin at walang basis yung claim ng China, bukas pwede na paalisin ang China dun sa mga areas na inoccupy nila. This will take years. Many years ang magiging struggle nito,” he said.
He said China will have to comply with the decision of the tribunal, otherwise it risks losing its credibility as a responsible member of the international community. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)