PH, Asean urged to use UN ruling on sea row as legal reference
The international tribunal’s ruling in a landmark case on South China Sea won by the Philippines last year should be made a legal reference for future negotiations and cooperations in the disputed sea, a Vietnamese expert on international relations reminded Asean leaders.
“The spirit and decisions of the ruling will certainly be a legal reference for future negotiation and cooperation in the South China Sea. Again, that’s important not only for other claimants, but it’s also for ASEAN and other stakeholders in the South China Sea,” Dr. Ha Anh Tuan, director for policy analysis of the Institute of South China Sea Studies of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, said.
“The Arbitral ruling is final and binding for China and the Philippines. No party, including the Philippines itself, can abolish it. So it will still be there whether ASEAN summit would refer to it or not,” Ha said when asked if the ruling should be tackled in the upcoming Asean summit from April 26 to 29 to be held in Pasay City.
Ten leaders from the members of the regional bloc in Southeast Asia are expected to attend the summit which will be chaired by President Rodrigo Duterte.
The South China Sea issue is expected to take center stage at the summit of Asean leaders.
The UN arbitral tribunal in its July 2016 decision has declared that China’s expansive claim to sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and its activities including construction of artificial islands had no legal basis.
Collaborations to address dispute
Ha called on both Vietnam and the Philippines to work together in ensuring that international laws, regional peace and stability are observed in the South China Sea.
“The violation of international laws, including the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), and regional agreements, especially the DOC will not be acceptable and ASEAN needs to state it clearly,” Ha said.
“The Philippines and Vietnam should collaborate and encourage other ASEAN members to work towards that end,” he said.
Both claimants and having similar interests in the South China Sea, Vietnam and the Philippines countries had been leading the opposition against China’s occupation and aggressive activities in the South China Sea in the previous years.
President Rodrigo Duterte made a complete turnaround when he softened his stance on Chinese occupation in the disputed islands in the South China Sea, even making pronouncements that “nothing can be done” to stop China from doing its activities.
Duterte, however, recently ordered the military to occupy and fortify all Philippine-held islands in the disputed South China Sea to assert the country’s claims, a seeming departure from his previous policies.
The Vietnamese international relations expert likewise expressed confidence that the South China Sea code of conduct could be signed by the end of 2017.
“There are many events indicating that a framework of COC could be reached in 2017. My concern is, however, not whether any new agreement be signed, but how it substantially contributes to promote regional peace and security,” he said.
He said the code of conduct is expected to create a favorable environment for the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with the principles widely recognized in international law, including the UNCLOS.
“In particular, the COC is a mechanism which can control the behavior of related parties in the South China Sea in case of having disputes as well as collision in this area. Thus, it provides the appropriate environment for resolving disputes comprehensively and permanently,” he said.
Ha said Vietnam hopes that as the chairman of ASEAN 2017, the Philippines will speed up the negotiation and the signing of the COC.
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