MANILA - Retired Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio on Friday said he does not believe China will resort to military action against the Philippines if the latter decides to be more assertive in its claims in the West Philippine Sea.
In a live event on Facebook, Carpio said China’s ongoing “gameplan” is to “intimidate” the Philippines and other claimant countries by enhancing its capability in the West Philippine Sea, or popularly known as the South China Sea.
But Beijing may restrain itself from resorting to any military attack to avoid a confrontation with the US and its more powerful military, he said.
“The purpose of these [Chinese] air and naval bases [in the West Philippine Sea] is to enforce the 9-dash line. It is not to invade Palawan or Luzon, because that would then trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty. They (China) think they can win, make the 9-dash line their national boundary by simply intimidating us. That is their gameplan,” Carpio said,
“They (China) will continue their creeping invasion, by intimidation. But they know if they go to war with the Philippines, they could bring in the US and the whole structure will collapse,” he added.
“China has this new warfare strategy: they will win the South China Sea without firing a single shot. A small skirmish will lead to war. A war will lead to nuclear war. That will diminish the Chinese people,” he said.
Carpio, who has been making presentations on the West Philippine Sea disputes in various fora, stressed the need for the Philippine government to assert that China honors the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of the Philippines on the disputed waters.
China refused to participate in the arbitration, and continued to insist on alleged historical rights and “indisputable sovereignty over the disputed waters."
“Chinese activities in the South China Sea date back to over 2,000 years ago. China was the first country to discover, name, explore and exploit the resources of the South China Sea Islands and the first to continuously exercise sovereign powers over them," China claimed in a position paper, dated December 7, 2014, in response to the arbitration initiated by the Philippines.
“Since the founding of the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949, the Chinese Government has been consistently and actively maintaining its sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands."
To assert the arbitral award and its claim, Carpio said the Philippine government should do the following:
• Encourage more non-claimant countries to conduct naval drills in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Naval drills within a country’s EEZ may be done without the consent of that country. By doing this, Carpio explained other countries will be affirming Philippine EEZ, thereby weakening China’s 9-dash line claim, which includes a claim over 80 percent or 256,000 square kilometers of the Philippines’ 320,000-square-kilometer EEZ.
• The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia conduct joint patrols in their respective EEZs. This will also affirm that these coastal states have EEZs, directly refuting China’s 9-dash line claim.
• The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia can sign a convention that a) no island in the Spratlys generate an EEZ, as stated in the arbitral award; b) the waters beyond the territorial sea in the Spratlys are the EEZs of the Philippines, also stated in the award; c) there is freedom of navigation and overflight in the EEZs, which will again refute Chinese claim that there is no freedom of navigation and overflight. And for this convention to be presented to the rest of the international community.
• The Philippines and Vietnam can enter into a sea boundary agreement.
There is a space between the Philippine and Vietnam EEZs in the Spratly’s, which is the extended continental shelf. The Philippines’ 150 nautical mile continental shelf overlaps with that of Vietnam’s, thus the need to agree on a median line as proposed by the UNCLOS, according to Carpio. The default boundary can be the median line. By doing this, again both the EEZs of PH and Vietnam are affirmed in the waters claimed by China.
• Manila can file for an extended continental shelf off the coast of Luzon facing the South China Sea, like what Malaysia did in December 2019 over areas not yet included in their extended continental shelf as of 2017. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea grants claims for extended continental shelf.
Carpio urged Filipinos to “familiarize” themselves with the maritime dispute and use various fora to correct the 9-dash line narrative, which “has no basis in fact and in law.”
In the end, he said “the battle for the West Philippine Sea is a battle for natural resources" in the oil, gas, and fish-rich waters.