Philippines wins arbitration case against China over West Philippine Sea

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The United Nation’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands on July 12 ruled 5-0 in favor of the Philippines in an arbitration case against China’s maritime claim, encroaching into the West Philippine Sea.

The Arbitral Tribunal upheld the Philippines’ position that China’s 9-dash line maritime claim, which they insisted to be based on a historical boundary, has also covered the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“[The] Tribunal concluded that, as between the Philippines and China, there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources, in excess of the rights provided by the Convention, within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’,” PCA’s press release said.

Key rulings

In summary, the judges in the international tribunal made these key rulings:

  1. China has no legal basis for their “9-dash line.”

“The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line.’”

  1. Spratly Islands have no EEZ.

“The Tribunal noted that the current presence of official personnel on many of the features is dependent on outside support and not reflective of the capacity of the features… (and) … that none of the Spratly Islands is capable of generating extended maritime zones.”

“The Tribunal found that it could – without delimiting a boundary – declare that certain sea areas within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement to China.”

  1. China has been unlawful towards the Philippines.

“China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone. The Tribunal further held that Chinese law-enforcement vessels had unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels.”

  1. China has harmed the environment.

By reclaiming the land in the South China Sea, including some parts of the West Philippine Sea, China has “caused severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems.”

It was also reported that Chinese authorities failed to stop Chinese fishermen from taking endangered species from the disputed sea areas, such as corals, sea turtles, and giant clams, on a substantial scale.

  1. China should have stopped reclamation projects during the dispute.

“China’s recent large-scale reclamation and construction of artificial islands was incompatible with the obligations on a state during dispute resolution proceedings, insofar as China has… destroyed evidence of the natural condition of features of the South China Sea that formed part of the Parties’ dispute.”

The full text of the PCA Arbitration ruling on the Philippines’ case vs. China can be found here, as provided by the Philippine Star.

The Hague ruling came after three years since the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China on January 22, 2013. This came after years of dispute and conflict in the South China Sea. In 2011, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs under former President Benigno Aquino III then started referring to the disputed body of water as the “West Philippine Sea.”

PH welcomes The Hague ruling

Moments after The Hague released its decision, DFA Secretary Perfecto Yasay said the Philippines “welcomes” the tribunal’s award on the sea row against China.

“The Philippines welcomes the issuance today, 12 July 2016, of the award by the Arbitral Tribunal constituted by the Permanent Court of Arbitration under Annex VII of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or Unclos on the arbitration proceedings initiated by the Philippines with regard to the South China Sea,” Yasay said in a statement during a press briefing.

“Our experts are studying the award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves,” he added.

Considering how neighboring nations are also interested in The Hague ruling because their territories were also affected by China’s 9-dash line, Yasay said, “The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea.”

“The Philippines reiterates its abiding commitment to efforts of pursuing the peaceful resolution and management of disputes with the view of promoting and enhancing peace and stability in the region,” he added.

How to enforce the ruling vs. China

But there is another issue – there is no international police to enforce The Hague ruling. This is a critical issue, especially with China’s refusal to abide by the tribunal’s decision.

“The award is invalid and has no binding force. China does not accept or recognize it,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The lead counsel representing the Philippines in the arbitration case, Paul Reichler, said that enforcement relies on how affected countries react.

“It will depend on a great extent on how vigorously all of the affected states, all of the states which have been prejudiced by the 9-dash line, assert their rights against China,” said Reichler in a telephone conference with some journalists.

But Reichler clarified that he meant to say for affected countries to vigorously assert their rights “diplomatically, legally, and above all peacefully.”

According to Reichler, “If these other states stand up for their rights in the way that the Philippines has done, you’ll get the situation where all of the neighboring states are insisting that China withdraw its illegal claims and respect their legal rights which have been defined and recognized and acknowledged today, because those states have the same rights as the Philippines.”

The lawyer also attributed the Philippines’ victory against China as the victory of other coastal countries in conflict with Beijing, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Reichler also said, “We think that this is not only the victory for the Philippines. This is also a victory for the rule of law and international relations.”

President Rodrigo Duterte called a Cabinet meeting an hour after The Hague’s decision was released, with Malacañang giving assurances earlier that the president would put national interest in the Philippines’ next move over the favorable ruling.

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