The Hague ruling on South China Sea must be included in sea code
MANILA, Philippines — The 2016 international arbitration ruling that has invalidated most of China’s claims in the South China Sea must be included in a code of conduct aimed to check aggressive actions in the disputed waters.
“In effect, the Hague ruling on the Philippines’ case in the South China Sea should be an integral part of a binding Code of Conduct. Our region cannot promote the rule of law while ignoring the law as it stands,” said former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in a forum in Makati City on Monday.
The former top diplomat was one of the leading figures in the filing of the arbitration case that challenged China’s massive claims in the South China Sea in 2013.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea are expected to again feature as a potential source of friction at the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to be held early next month in Thailand.
The 10-member regional bloc has grappled repeatedly with forging a unified approach to the issue. China has effectively drawn on the support of Cambodia and other Asean allies in blocking strong statements criticizing its actions and claim to sovereignty over virtually the entire strategic waterway.
China and the five countries that have conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea, including Asean members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei, have been moving ahead in negotiations for a code of conduct aimed at reducing the potential for armed conflict.
China hopes to finalize the joint code by 2021.
“The Asean should stress that the South China Sea is nobody’s backyard or exclusive preserve. Failure to do so would severely narrow Asean’s options and make it over-dependent on a single player,” Del Rosario said.
Without a binding code of conduct, Chinese aggression and military activities will persistently push the existing entitlements under international law of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam into more turbulent waters, he said.
Del Rosario also suggested a joint discussion with Vietnam on some aspects of the sea code.
“Clearly, it would be a constructive move to consult with Vietnam to give us an opportunity to share and appreciate each other’s views which could lead to an agreed plan of action that is beneficial not only to both countries but to others as well,” he said.
Convention for 5 Asean claimants
Newly-retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, in the same forum, proposed that five of the Asean South China Sea claimants should sign a convention to counter Chinese intimidation in the disputed waters and at the same time enforce the arbitral ruling.
“What constitutes grey zone tactics should be clearly defined in the convention. This will isolate China as the only disputant state resorting to grey zone tactics and refusing to maintain the status quo,” he said.
The five Asean claimant countries can also declare that all the high-tide geologic features in the Spratlys can only territorial seas and none of these generate an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as ruled by the arbitral tribunal at the Hague, Carpio added.
Carpio also said the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia can demarcate their overlapping EEZs and extended continental shelves in the Spratlys based on the ruling of the arbitral tribunal that all high-tide geologic features in the Spratlys generate only territorial seas and generate no EEZs.
They can also agree to declare the entire resource-rich Spratlys as an international marine protected area, he further said.
“Only civilian facilities should be allowed in the Spratlys, and the existing military facilities can be converted into marine research or tourism facilities…China will be the number one beneficiary of such convention because China now takes more than 50 percent of the annual fish catch in the South China Sea,” he said.
The navies or coast guards of five Asean member-states can also conduct joint patrols beyond the territorial seas of the high-tide geologic features in the Spratlys, he added.
“These joint patrols, an exercise of freedom of navigation, will enforce the arbitral ruling by state practice,” Carpio said. with reports from AP
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