The heart of the dispute over the West PH Sea
Can a country claim “historic rights” over an area far away from its boundary and already within the maritime zone of another country?
This was the central point of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario’s speech before the United Nations (UN) arbitral tribunal hearing the case of the maritime dispute between China and the Philippines.
“China has claimed ‘historic rights’ in areas that are beyond 200 nautical miles from its mainland coasts, or any land feature over which it claims sovereignty, and within 200 NM of the coasts of the Philippines’ main islands,” Del Rosario said.
“The central element of the legal dispute between the parties, is that China has asserted a claim of ‘historic rights’ to vast areas of the sea and seabed that lie far beyond the limits of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf entitlements under the convention.”
This was contrary to the provisions of the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Seas (Unclos), where China and the Philippines are signatories.
Under Unclos, a state has a 200-NM EEZ from the coast of islands it owns.
“The convention does not recognize, or permit the exercise of, so called ‘historic rights’ in areas beyond the limits of the maritime zones that are recognized or established by Unclos,” Del Rosario said.
“[China] has acted forcefully to assert [its claim], by exploiting the living and nonliving resources in the areas beyond the Unclos limits while forcibly preventing other coastal states, including the Philippines, from exploiting the resources in the same areas—even though the areas lie well within 200 NM of the Philippines’ coast,” he said.
“China has pursued its activities in these disputed maritime areas with overwhelming force. The Philippines can only counter by invoking international law.”
China has previously claimed that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the entire South China Sea through the establishment of its nine-dash line claim.
According to official maps published by the Chinese government, the nine-dash line runs close to the coasts of Palawan island and several provinces in Luzon overlapping with the Philippines’ EEZ. It also overlaps with the maritime zones of Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Indonesia.
“The so-called nine-dash line has no basis whatsoever under international law insofar as it purports to define the limits of China’s claim to ‘historic rights,'” Del Rosario pointed out as one of the main claims in the Philippines’ case.
He also said that China’s massive land reclamation activities turning reefs and submerged rocks in the Spratly islands were a “blatant disregard of the Philippines rights’ in its EEZ.”
Several Asian countries, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan, were allowed as observers by the tribunal despite the proceedings being closed to the public.
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