ZURICH – The Philippines is confident it has a strong case to win the international arbitration case challenging China’s claim to most of the South China Sea.
“What this says to the world is that the Philippines believes that when all is said and done, law and reason will prevail over brute force,” Communications Secretary Ramon “Ricky” Carandang said in a briefing to visiting Philippine media before heading to Davos for the World Economic Forum annual meetings.
“We are taking this to the international mechanism for resolving this kind of disputes. It is a testament to our belief, our faith that we are countries that are conducting ourselves, again, through with reason and through the rule of law rather than through brute force,” he said.
The Philippine authorities have long talked about taking this step and finally decided to go for it. “And we’re confident that we will make the case about the disputes and that we will win this case on the merits,” Carandang said.
By taking this step, Carandang said the Philippines was giving China a “chance” to “prove to the world” that it could participate in a mechanism for an orderly resolution.
Asked about a potential scenario of China refusing to participate in the arbitration case, Carandang said: “We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there but as signatories to Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), there should be no reason why they don’t.”
As to whether the Philippines could take a potential backlash from China, now the second largest economy in the world next to the United States, Carandang said that while the Philippines has taken this case to arbitration, it would like to tell China its preference for a rules-based system to resolve the dispute. “Again, going to the courts means strengthening that mechanism of the rules of law, and we think that it would be good for everybody who has an interest in the South China China to watch and to participate in this. So we encourage China to participate in this process,” he said.
Whether or not the Philippines gets support from different countries, the international community would want to know what it’s doing, according to Carandang. “And, I think, at the end of the day, this is gonna be a legal argument so, it’s more important that we make the right arguments to the arbitration committee than it is to get, say, political support. But certainly, the international community seems to support our positions, particularly with regard to Scarborough Shoal and Reed Bank, which have long been considered territories belonging to the Philippines,” he said.
Carandang said there’s no head count of states supportive of the Philippine position but explained that every country that has expressed support for freedom of navigation in these waters was effectively supporting a rules-based mechanism for resolving disputes.
“We’re not saying that you have to say that Scarborough (Shoal) and Recto Bank are ours, although certainly, they are ours, and if any country wants to agree with us, we welcome them. But what we’re saying is, and what many countries have said is that they would like to see a rules-based mechanism for resolving these issues. So it’s not as if, you come in here, you occupy something and then you push everybody around. Everybody wants to see these disputes resolve in an orderly, peaceful, and legal manner. And anyone who says that, is basically supporting the position of the Philippines,” he said.