The Philippines takes China to the UN to settle maritime dispute
Singapore (Platts)--23Jan2013/435 am EST/935 GMT
The Philippines has taken China to a United Nations arbitration tribunal
to settle their territorial dispute over the South China Sea, referred to as
the West Philippine Sea by Manila, in a move which one analyst likened to
"the Philippines calling China's bluff."
"China has repeatedly said it wants to resolve territorial disputes
bilaterally, yet it has 'indisputable sovereignty' over the South China Sea,"
Carl Thayer, an analyst on issues involving the South China Sea at the
Australian Defence Force Academy, said Wednesday.
The Philippines Notification and Statement of Claim lodged with the UN
challenges China on both accounts, Thayer said.
"If the arbitration tribunal does go ahead and hear the case, it could
well undermine China's claim to 'indisputable sovereignty' to the South China
Sea," he added.
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Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario said Tuesday
that his country has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues
for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China.
"On numerous occasions, dating back to 1995, the Philippines has been
exchanging views with China to peacefully settle these disputes. To this day,
a solution is still elusive. We hope that the arbitral proceedings shall
bring this dispute to a durable solution," he said in a statement posted on
the Department of Foreign Affairs website Wednesday.
China claims sovereignty over as much as 80% of the South China Sea as
outlined by its so-called nine-dashed line, which ropes in the Paracel and
Spratly islands as well as island atolls closer to the Philippines.
Disputes over the region arise mostly because of its suspected vast oil
and gas reserves. The sea is also home to vast fishing grounds and hosts
shipping lanes that are vital for global trade.
Estimates for the potential hydrocarbon resources in the South China Sea
run as high as 200 billion barrels of oil equivalent -- with some Chinese
estimates putting them much higher -- although due to a lack of exploratory
drilling there are no proven oil or gas reserve estimates.
CHINA'S NINE-DASH LINE
In its Notification and Statement of Claim submitted to the UN, Manila
has challenged China's nine-dash line claim and has asked the tribunal to
compel China to desist from unlawful activities that violate the sovereign
rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines under the 1982 United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea, the DFA said.
The Philippines ratified the convention in 1984 and China in 1996.
The DFA added that the move was taken by Manila alone, and had nothing
to do with its allies Japan or the US.
China's ambassador to the Philippines, Ma Keqing, was summoned to the
DFA on Tuesday and notified of the Philippines' claim before the UN.
China is likely to react negatively to the Philippines initiative
because it has legal implications for the other claimants to the South China
Sea, according to Thayer.
"China faces a dilemma on how to respond, should it engage legally and
pursue a peaceful resolution of this dispute, or should China brazen it out
and resort to intimidation," he said.
"The Chinese side strongly holds that the disputes on South China Sea
should be settled by the parties concerned through negotiations," Xinhua news
agency quoted Ma as saying during his meeting Tuesday with Assistant
Secretary of the Philippine DFA Theresa Lasaro.
Ma reiterated China's principled position that it has indisputable
sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and its adjacent waters
at the meeting.
"This is also the consensus reached by parties concerned in the
Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, " she added.
Beijing has always stood for a negotiated settlement of international
disputes through peaceful means, Ma said, adding that China has solved
questions regarding territory and border with some neighboring countries
through bilateral consultations and negotiations in an equitable, reasonable
and amicable manner.
China and the Philippines have repeatedly clashed in recent years over
the islands, the most recent being a standoff between Philippine naval ships
and Chinese fishing boats at the Scarborough Shoal outcrop in June last year.
China's claim to the South China Sea has been most resolutely contested
by Vietnam and the Philippines, although Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also
stake claims to some island territories in the region.
The Philippines is also an active claimant in terms of oil and gas
exploration rights and has been in dispute with China over its own latest
exploration round, which takes in two areas that China says fall within its
The two areas claimed by China -- Areas 3 and 4, out of 15 blocks on
offer by the Philippines -- are located offshore northwest Palawan Island,
lying within about 80 km (49 miles) off the Philippine coast at their closest
Apart from Areas 3 and 4, China also claims sovereignty over exploration
area Service Contract 72, just to the southwest of the two blocks.
DISPUTE WITH VIETNAM
Vietnam and China have competing claims to the Paracel and Spratly
Islands in the South China Sea, and regularly trade diplomatic barbs over
sovereignty and fishing rights in the contested waters.
The dispute stepped up in intensity in June 2012 when Vietnam's National
Assembly approved a maritime law claiming sovereignty and jurisdiction over
the Paracel and Spratly islands, a move viewed by China as a violation of its
This was followed two days later by Chinese state-owned oil company
CNOOC offering nine offshore blocks, located in what Vietnam says is its
exclusive economic zone, to international oil and gas companies for bidding.
PetroVietnam has urged foreign companies not to compete for the acreage,
and said the blocks offered by CNOOC overlapped with tracts already being
explored by Vietnam, in partnership with foreign companies including India's
ONGC, Russia's Gazprom and ExxonMobil.
Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs is expected to give its formal
response to the Philippine-China issue in its regular press conference on
Thursday, sources with knowledge of the matter said Tuesday.
Vietnam and China signed an agreement on basic principles guiding the
settlement of sea-related issues in Beijing in October 2011. Under the
agreement, the two countries agreed to settle the South China Sea dispute
through peaceful negotiations.
--Mriganka Jaipuriyar, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Song Yen Ling, email@example.com
--Dao Dang Toan, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by James Leech, email@example.com