MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines is inviting China to bring their simmering territorial dispute to a UN-linked tribunal in a bid to end the weeklong standoff in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said that international law “would be the great equalizer” as he urged Beijing to raise the issue before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
“In pursuing a peaceful settlement of the Scarborough Shoal issue, we fully intend to humbly invite our Chinese friends to join us in the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea,” said Del Rosario.
He said that ITLOS would be the one to ascertain who between the Philippines and China has sovereign rights over Scarborough Shoal “where Chinese ships are currently engaging in illegal activities within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.”
The Chinese Embassy, however, ignored the proposal Tuesday and asked the Philippines to withdraw its vessels from the shoal “and restore peace and stability there.”
ITLOS is an independent judicial body established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that serves as mediator for “disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention. The Tribunal is composed of 21 independent members, elected from among persons enjoying the highest reputation for fairness and integrity and of recognized competence in the field of the law of the sea,” the tribunal said on its website.
“The whole world knows that China has myriad more ships and aircraft than the Philippines. At day’s end, however, we hope to demonstrate that international law would be the great equalizer,” Del Rosario said.
The Philippines says the uninhabited shoal, which it calls Panatag, lies 230 kilometers (143 miles) from its Zambales province and is well within the country’s 230-mile exclusive economic zone that is recognized under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. China’s nearest territory to the shoal, Hainan province, is 872 kilometers (542 miles) away, Filipino officials say.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhang Hua acknowledged the UNCLOS allows countries to claim such exclusive economic zones but said they could not exercise sovereignty on areas within those waters that are owned by other countries. An ancient Chinese shipwreck can be found off Scarborough, which China calls Huangyan, but the Philippine research ship has no right to salvage it, Zhang said.
The standoff at the Scarborough Shoal started last week after the Philippine Navy deployed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar to the Scarborough Shoal in a bid to stop Chinese fishermen from poaching in the area. China then sent surveillance vessels and prevented the Philippine army vessel from arresting the poachers.
Chinese Embassy spokesman Zhang Hua in Manila said that although China and the Philippines disagree over who possesses the shoal, “both sides agreed not to do anything to complicate or aggravate the situation.”
Several rounds of talks have failed to end the impasse, which began April 10 when two Chinese ships prevented a Philippine warship from arresting several Chinese fishermen who were accused of illegal entry and poaching. The fishermen slipped away from the shoal over the weekend.
The Philippines lodged another protest with China on Monday, accusing one of the Chinese ships and an aircraft of harassing a Philippine-registered yacht to force it to leave the Scarborough area. Several French citizens are on the yacht, which has been conducting archaeological research in the shoal, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
Zhang said that the yacht infringed on China’s rights “and violates relevant international conventions.” With a report from Associated Press