China twits Philippines' 'historical, legal errors'


Posted at Feb 19 2013 09:15 PM | Updated as of Feb 20 2013 09:44 AM

BEIJING, China (UPDATED) -  The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that China had rejected the Philippines' request to submit the two countries' territorial disputes in the South China Sea to international arbitration.

The ministry's spokesman Hong Lei said China's ambassador to the Philippines, Ma Keqing, met on Tuesday with officials from the Philippines' Foreign Ministry to reject the request.

Hong stressed that China has consistently advocated resolving territorial disputes bilaterally, a stance he said was supported by the ASEAN countries.

"The Philippines' actions not only violated this consensus, they also make numerous historical and legal errors, including false criticism of China. China absolutely cannot accept it," Hong told a regular news conference in Beijing.

"We hope the Philippine side can scrupulously abide by its promises, not take actions to expand and complicate the situation, and positively respond to proposals made by China on setting up a negotiation system to discuss maritime disputes, and restarting work of building a mutual-trust mechanism," he added.

China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim territory in the South China Sea.

China's claim is the largest, forming a vast U-shape over most of the sea's 1.7 million square km (648,000 square miles), including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.

China has insisted on handling the disputes on a one-on-one basis rather than multilaterally, a strategy some critics have described as "divide and conquer."

DFA: Arbitration to proceed

In response to China's move, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said: “China’s action will not interfere with the process of Arbitration initiated by the Philippines on 22 January 2013. The Arbitration will proceed under Annex VII of [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] and the 5-member arbitration panel will be formed with or without China.”

“The Philippines remains committed to Arbitration which is a friendly, peaceful and durable form of dispute settlement that should be welcomed by all,” the DFA said.

DFA also said the soon-to-be-formed tribunal will check the domestic laws of China, which should be in conformity with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier said UNCLOS, which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, will be the great “equalizer.”

Article 9 of Annex 7 provides that: “If one of the parties to the dispute does not appear before the arbitral tribunal or fails to defend its case, the other party may request the tribunal to continue the proceedings and to make its award. Absence of a party or failure of a party to defend its case shall not constitute a bar to the proceedings. Before making its award, the arbitral tribunal must satisfy itself not only that it has jurisdiction over the dispute but also that the claim is well founded in fact and law.” -- with a report from Ira Pedrasa,