OXFORD—Scholars and experts in maritime affairs, international relations and law of the sea gathered at the University of Oxford to offer new approaches to resolve maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
Justice Antonio Carpio, who has lectured extensively on the West Philippine Sea dispute in various international fora, said there have been many proposals for resolving South China Sea maritime disputes but a "stumbling block" remains.
“There is stumbling block because China says they own everything within the 9-dash line. But I could see that a lot of people are moving beyond this because nobody could see the Chinese position that they own everything within the 9-dash line 2,000 years ago. That has been resolved by the tribunal,” said Carpio.
In 2016, the Hague arbitral ruling concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the 9-dash line.
Carpio said there is a "historical falsehood" in China's education regarding the South China Sea.
"The Chinese government will not comply with the ruling of the tribunal if the Chinese people do not understand that what has been taught to them from grade school to college is wrong. From grade school to college, they have been taught they own the South China Sea, from 2000 years ago. That is a historical falsehood. Absolutely false," he said.
The tribunal also found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by interfering with Philippines’ fishing and petroleum exploration.
However, China refused to honor the Hague ruling.
Bill Hayton, associate fellow of the Asia Program of Chatham House, said proposals for cooperation are going to be difficult if they involve China.
“The feeling that I’m getting from the Chinese side is, in effect, that they should really control the agenda. It's really making me think that Southeast Asian countries would just need to get on individually or together to start to make things happen,” he said.
Assistant professor Yuka Kobayashi of the Political and International Studies of SOAS University of London said, "It’s very interesting that you have this kind of award yet China is ignoring it. I think this is a very typical kind of lesson from limitation of international law. On one hand, you have this body of international law, the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea and the international tribunal under it. However, you have China not taking part in the adjudication and also not really taking the award into consideration.”
Despite the Hague ruling, China has maintained its assertion on the South China Sea, according to Hayton.
“Philippines has won the arbitration ruling which basically says the gas below the Reed Bank belongs to the Philippines. The lights are going out of Manila in 5 years time. What is the Philippines actually about it doing right now? China wants the gas for itself. The whole point of the arbitration was to say it’s not theirs. You can talk about joint venture, for example,” Hayton said.
NO MORE FEAR
Jay Batongbacal, a director at the Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the increased presence of Chinese Navy ships in the Sandy Cay and Pag-asa Islands is very alarming.
“It demonstrates the Philippines is extremely constrained right now in its movement in the West Philippine Sea and anything the Philippine does. May mangingisda lang, immediately there is a Chinese response. Now, what is of bigger concern, it’s happening very close to Pag-asa, the largest island we possess. It shows that the Chinese influence is closer, so to speak, to the shores of Pag-asa,” Batongbacal said.
“Dahil nga friendly na ang ating mga gobyerno, on the Chinese side, wala na silang takot tuloy na mag-operate kahit saan dito sa area na ito," he added.
But a scholar on China’s maritime policy believes being friendly towards China worked in favor of the Philippines.
“What has been smart on the part of your president, in my opinion, was not to push this card and to seek a better relations with China. But the problem is to build trust in the future,” said Alexander Sheldon-Duplaix, former analyst, French Ministry of Defense.
Carpio agrees the Philippines should maintain a good relationship with China “as long as we do not waive whatever we won in that arbitral ruling.”
“We should not waive any of our sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea but we should continue our relationships with China, nurture them: economic relations, diplomatic, educational exchanges and so on but we must know that we have to preserve our sovereign right because that’s our obligation. The obligation of every president is to preserve the sovereignty and the sovereign right of Philippine state,” he said.
Carpio also suggests continuing to spread the word that China’s narrative of the 9-dash line is false, and educate its people through text and books.
The conference was a two-day gathering in the University of Oxford, wherein panelists from China, Philippines, Vietnam and Chatham House Royal Institute of International Affairs participated.
It is a recognition that there is a problem that needs to be addressed, and that there should be new approaches and creative ways to respond to the conflicts that affect many coastal states around the South China Sea. —With Marco Pajo, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau