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Manila all at sea over islands

By Jin Yongming | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-03 07:10

On April 26, the Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the Philippines of trying to legalize its occupation of disputed islands in the South China Sea. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China would never agree to international arbitration on the disputed islands, which the Philippines has been seeking.

Earlier this year, the Philippine government called for international arbitration in the South China Sea dispute and notified China of its move. And in late March, the president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea even appointed an arbiter for arbitral proceedings after Beijing "failed to designate its representative within the 60-day deadline".

The South China Sea dispute centers mainly on two aspects: conflicting sovereignty claims over Nansha Islands and maritime delimitation. In both cases, the disputing countries should resolve the issue through peaceful means. By initiating arbitration on the validity of China's claims, the Philippines has actually exposed its lack of legal knowledge and violated the consensus reached on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has called for arbitration in the dispute by invoking the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, but this does not justify its move. According to Article 286 of the UNCLOS, any dispute on the interpretation or application of the convention, in which no settlement has been reached through negotiation or other peaceful means, should be submitted by a party to the dispute to a court or tribunal having jurisdiction over the matter.

Therefore, a party to a dispute can invoke the article on the premise that no negotiated settlement has been reached. But by submitting the dispute to the arbitral tribunal that has not yet been fully established, Manila has unilaterally terminated the negotiation procedure and thus should be responsible for the consequences that follow.

Manila's unilateral move has also violated the consensus reached on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea with Beijing. According to Article 7 of the declaration, "the parties concerned should stand ready to continue their consultations and dialogues concerning relevant issues, through modalities to be agreed by them". Obviously, taking the dispute to the UN is not a modality agreed by the two sides. Since the Philippines has violated the consensus, parties in the South China Sea should henceforth prevent it from participating in the process to develop legally binding documents.

Moreover, the Philippines took the dispute to the UN tribunal to challenge the validity of China's nine-dotted line (demarcation line of China's claim in the South China Sea) to justify Manila's sovereignty claims and maritime interests in the resource-rich waters. By doing so, the Philippines has rested its hope on a wrong party because the arbitral tribunal has no jurisdiction over the dispute.

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