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09/05/2013: China Urged to Respect Philippine Sovereignty

9 May 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Philippines today reiterated its calls for Beijing to respect its sovereignty over the Kalayaan Island Group in the Spratlys and to avoid actions that would only raise tensions in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

“We hope China would respect our sovereignty,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. told a forum here on Thursday as he echoed Manila’s concern over the reported departure from Hainan on Monday of a large fleet of Chinese fishing vessels that will go on a 40-day expedition in the Spratly archipelago.

“We hope that there would be no more provocative actions because these do not certainly contribute to the enhancement of relations,” Ambassador Cuisia said in response to a question raised during a forum on the South China Sea organized by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

Ambassador Cuisia’s statement follows calls from the Department of Foreign Affairs for Beijing to steer clear of Manila’s established maritime boundaries in the West Philippine Sea as the Philippines has sovereign rights and jurisdiction to explore its resources in the exclusive economic zone for the benefit of the Filipino people.

During the same forum, Ambassador Cuisia expressed hope that China would follow the same rules-based approach adopted by the Philippines in its bid to resolve and manage the dispute over the conflicting claims in the South China Sea.

“This rules-based approach involves the conclusion of a substantive and legally-binding ASEAN-China Code of Conduct and third party adjudication by way of arbitration of the various maritime disputes in the South China Sea,” the Filipino envoy said.

While a Code of Conduct is critical, Ambassador Cuisia said it still needs to be complemented by arbitration if the objective is to ensure a more durable peace in the region. This, he said, is the reason why the Philippines initiated the arbitral proceedings against China on 22 January 2013.

“We are pleased that the United States government supports the Philippines in its position that the Code of Conduct and the arbitration are two legs upon which long term peace and stability in the South China Sea could be ensured. These two are complementary processes and are not mutually exclusive of each other,” Ambassador Cuisia told forum participants.

According to the ambassador, the arbitration case filed by Manila does not aim to address who has sovereignty over the islands and other features of the South China Sea.

“What it asks, basically, is for the Arbitral Tribunal to declare that China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea based on its so-called nine-dash line are contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and are, thus, invalid,” he said.

“While some would like to characterize the issue as a purely territorial dispute that should be resolved directly by the parties concerned, the issue clearly has far reaching implications to the international community, in terms of respect for the freedom of navigation and commerce, and the peaceful settlement of disputes,” Ambassador Cuisia said.

“We believe all countries whether directly affected or not, have an interest and a stake in protecting these fundamental tenets of international law. Thus to support the Philippines in the path we have chosen to peacefully settle the dispute is to support a rules based international order, where disputes are settled not through force nor might, but through an objective and just application of international law,” he added.

The discussions on the South China Sea at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation came a few days after a similar forum at the Stimson Center also in Washington where legal experts expressed disagreement with Beijing’s nine-dash line claim.

Prof. John Norton Moore, Director of the Center for National Security Law and Director for the Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the University of Virginia School of Law, said China’s nine-dash line claim has no basis in international and oceans law and that Beijing’s long-term interest lies in the compromise that is set in UNCLOS that protects freedom of navigation around the world.

“The concept of historical claim is ambiguous and it may be completely counter to the long-term interest of China. UNCLOS is in the interest of China, I have no doubt whatsoever,” he said. ###