Carpio says PH-China deal to explore Recto Bank ‘light at the end of the tunnel’
MANILA, Philippines—Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio expressed optimism that China’s declaration that it would not interfere with Philippine exploration in Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea would eventually lead to the settlement of maritime disputes there.
“The Chinese response has been very encouraging,” said Carpio, one of the staunchest critics of Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, at an online forum hosted by Stratbase ADR Institute on Wednesday (Nov. 25).
“China stated that it will not stop the exploration activities of the Philippines in Reed Bank because China and the Philippines have arrived at a consensus on the matter referring to the MOU and TOR,” Carpio said, using the initials for memorandum of understanding and terms of reference signed by the Philippines and China for joint oil exploration.
China claims ownership of nearly the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, which refers to waters that form part of Philippine territory.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have claims in the South China Sea, which is crisscrossed by vital sea-lanes through which billions of dollars in global commerce passes every year and where islets, reefs, and atolls are believed to be sitting atop vast energy reserves.
In 2016, the Philippines won at an international arbitration court a recognition of its exclusive economic zone over waters 370 kilometers from its coast.
The court ruling also invalidated China’s claims over nearly all of the South China Sea based on its nine-dash line myth.
While China ignored the ruling, Carpio said “recent developments indicate that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.”
He said China’s response was “very unlike the Chinese reaction to Vietnamese and Malaysian exploration activities in the latter’s EEZ in the South China Sea.”
To him, it was a “soft admission” that the Philippines also has an EEZ.
“The MOU and TOR arrangement will satisfy the objective of the Philippines to preserve its sovereign rights in the EEZ in the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio said. It would also allow “China, through its state-owned enterprise CNOOC and CNOOC’s partners, to get 40 percent of the net proceeds of the gas in Reed Bank,” he said.
“It will be a fair and just arrangement satisfying China’s objective of a win-win solution in the South China Sea dispute,” he added.
A similar MOU and TOR will likely be offered to other claimant states Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Indonesia.
“If China pursues and sticks to the MOU and TOR arrangement, the maritime disputes in the entire South China Sea will be settled peacefully, to the satisfaction of all disputant states,” Carpio said.
He concluded that the “obvious solution” for the disputes is adherence to rule of law, particularly the UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea).
“If every state will respect the EEZ of every other state as prescribed under UNCLOS, the South China Sea will become a sea of peace and stability in our planet,” Carpio said.
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