Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Manila's move cannot resolve dispute

By Zhou Jiang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-31 07:52

Early last year, the Philippines took its territorial dispute with China to international arbitration. According to the first procedural order issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration following the first meeting of the tribunal members in July last year, Manila has to submit its memorial by March 30, 2014.

In 2006, China submitted a formal statement to the United Nations clarifying that it does not accept any of the compulsory procedures provided in Section 2 of Part XV of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, with respect to any dispute involving sovereignty, territory and maritime demarcation referred to in Article 298 of the Convention. Also in a note to the tribunal in August 2013, Beijing reiterated its position that it does not accept the arbitration initiated by the Philippines. Hence, Beijing is unlikely to submit any substantive comment on Manila's written argument, nor will it participate in the ensuing proceedings.

The rules of procedures issued by the arbitral tribunal set out the course of action to be taken by the tribunal if one of the parties does not appear in the proceedings. The question is whether the tribunal has jurisdiction to hear the case without China, considering the provisions of the Convention for the settlement of disputes, as well as the points of dispute on which the Philippines requests the tribunal to adjudicate on.

The 13 points of dispute Manila has brought forth can be categorized into four general lines of argument - that "China's maritime claims in the South China Sea based on its nine-dash line violate the Convention and are invalid", that "China's occupation of and activities on four submerged features such as the Mischief Reef, known as the Meiji Reef in Chinese, are unlawful", that "China unlawfully claims its right over the certain 'rocks' above water at high tide such as the Scarborough Shoal, or Huangyan Island to China", and that "the Philippines is entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and a continental shelf measured from its archipelagic baselines and China's exploitation activities in the area have jeopardized its maritime interests".

The arbitral tribunal has to examine the first argument from several aspects. Above all, if the tribunal was to decide the validity of China's nine-dash line as Manila requests, it would have to examine the country's territorial claims and maritime demarcation, which is a matter outside the tribunal's jurisdiction.

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