Philippines says China robbing right to exploit waters

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 25 2015 11:37 AM

THE HAGUE - The Philippines asked an arbitral tribunal to recognize its right to exploit waters in the South China Sea, a case that could bolster territorial claims by other countries against China in the resource-rich body of water.

A bulletin issued by Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte on Day 1 of the Hearing on the Merits, said Solicitor General Florin Hilbay told the UN arbitral tribunal that the Philippines will explain why China's historic claims over the "nine-dash line" lack basis.

The nine-dash line stretches south and east of mainland China and covers hundreds of disputed islands and reefs, including parts of the West Philippine Sea.

The bulletin said Principal Counsel Paul Reichler discussed the nature of China’s historic rights claim and how these purported historic rights, "supposedly derived under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in fact do not exist under the provisions of the convention."

"Mr. Reichler mentioned that China has asserted exclusive rights over the areas covered by the Nine-Dash Line and has deprived the Philippines of fishing and exploration activities," the bulletin said.

Professor Bernard Oxman of the University of Miami School of Law tackled the unlawfulness of China’s claim to the South China Sea beyond its maritime entitlements under the UNCLOS and how it encroaches on the rights of coastal states like the Philippines.

Lawyer Andrew Loewenstein also presented eight maps, the first of which dates back to the Ming Dynasty, to show that China's territory did not include that which it claims now under the Nine-Dash Line.

He noted that even assuming, for the sake of argument, that a claim of historic rights can exist after the UNCLOS, China has failed to satisfy the requirements to establish the claim which is a continuous exercise of exclusive control for a long period of time over the said area.

The second day of the hearings will proceed as scheduled on November 25, 2015.

Philippine officials are hopeful the international tribunal will come out with a favorable ruling on the country's case against China within six months.

China, which claims economic and territorial rights in almost the entire South China Sea, has boycotted the proceedings and rejects the court's authority in the case.

Experts say a ruling could influence other cases in the heated South China Sea dispute - involving Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and other countries. Indonesia has signalled it may also go to the court to counter an increasingly-assertive China that has heightened tension in the region.

The Philippines will make submissions on 15 claims during the proceedings. China has said the legal challenge could delay a negotiated settlement between the two countries.

Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia will also observe the pleadings, which will run until Nov. 30 in private. A final ruling is expected in mid-2016.

The United States, traditionally the region's dominant security player, also objects to China's moves, sending military aircraft to survey China's development activities.

Court rulings are supposed to be binding on its member countries, which include China. But the tribunal, set up in 1899 as one of the first international judicial institutions, has no powers of enforcement and its rulings have been ignored before.

The Philippines' case is based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) - a pact that does not cover matters of sovereignty, but outlines a system of territory and economic zones that can be claimed from features such as islands, rocks and reefs.