MANILA, Philippines – China’s territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) does not give it the right to the hotly contested territory because they are “just mere claims” and do not adhere to international laws.
“There is a fundamental difference between entitlements and claims under international law,” Assistant Secretary Henry Bensurto Jr. of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)-West Philippine Sea Center said during the second Expanded Asean Maritime Forum (EAMF) in Kuala Lumpur Thursday.
“Claims are just mere claims that may not necessarily generate rights unless duly proven in an appropriate forum,” Bensurto said.
Maritime entitlements, as expressed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), include a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and which are “rights that lawfully demand respect from all State-Parties,” he added.
China claims a large swath of the entire South China Sea including part of the Philippines’ 200 nautical-mile EEZ.
The Philippines has filed for arbitration proceedings before the arbitral tribunal of the International Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague pursuant to the UNCLOS.
China has repeatedly refused to participate in the proceedings, insisting instead on bilateral talks to resolve the territorial dispute.
Fishing ships and maritime surveillance vessels of China continue to move in and out of the Philippines EEZ. Concrete blocks which could be used for the construction of structures were previously sighted off Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag or Scarborough Shoal).
Last year, Chinese fishing vessels were found illegally poaching endemic Philippine marine species in Bajo de Masinloc. A standoff ensued when authorities were prevented from apprehending the fishermen by Chinese ships which blocked them.
“To maintain order and stability in the South China Sea, we need predictability in the way we all behave with each other. To be predictable means, we need to have certain agreed standards, rules and norms,” Bensurto said.
“These standards, rules and norms in turn must be objective, impartial and non-discriminatory. International law is one objective standard,” he said.
The UNCLOS, recognized as the “Constitution of the oceans,” prescribes the rights, obligations, and maritime entitlements that must be respected by all state-parties to the convention.
Representatives from the DFA, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Philippine Ports Authority, NAMRIA, Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard, joined the delegation to the Asean Maritime Forum (AMF).
Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam were participants in the forum.
The Expanded AMF is composed of all Asean member states, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States.