By Pia Lee-Brago/The Philippine Star – Shrugging off Beijing’s rejection of its arbitration initiative, the Philippines has picked one of the five members of an international arbitration panel on its maritime dispute with China.
Both Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday China’s rejection of the arbitration process was expected.
Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras also said the government is confident that the result of the arbitration would be in favor of the Philippines.
The other day, Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing returned to the DFA the Philippines’ notice on international arbitration and informed Manila that Beijing had rejected the process.
Analysts have said China risked being an international outlaw if it rejected the outcome of arbitration by the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
Seven cases on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea have undergone similar arbitration since the UNCLOS was passed in 1982. All countries involved respected the outcomes.
One recent case, between Myanmar and Bangladesh, reportedly inspired the Philippines to try the same tack. Bangladesh won the case.
The case brought by Manila to the UN does not seek a settlement of the country’s territorial
dispute with China, but a definition of the Philippines’ maritime entitlements under the UNCLOS.
Manila has picked Rudiger Wolfrum, one of the 21 members of ITLOS, for the five-member arbitration panel. The Philippines and China were given 30 days to pick arbitrators; the three other members of the panel will be named by ITLOS.
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said that under UNCLOS, “even if one party does not join or participate in the process, the process will continue until a decision is made by the arbitral tribunal.”
“The process will continue with or without China,” Hernandez said.
China lays claim to nearly the entire South China Sea and the East Sea. The area, delineated by a so-called nine-dash line, covers over 100 islets, atolls and reefs.
“This excessive claim is the core issue of the Philippines’ arbitration case against China,” the DFA said in a statement.
“The Philippines remains committed to arbitration, which is a friendly, peaceful and durable form of dispute settlement that should be welcomed by all.”
While China ratified the UNCLOS in 1996, it excluded itself in 2006 from UN arbitration on maritime territorial disputes and military activities of the UN Security Council.
The UNCLOS provides a 200-mile exclusive economic zone from the coast – an area where a country has exclusive right to exploit resources.
China has maintained that its maritime territorial disputes must be settled bilaterally – a position rejected by the Philippines, which has also tried to get the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to adopt a common stand on the disputes.
“The Philippines has been engaging China in political and diplomatic dialogues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute for the past 18 years, but with no success. In every occasion, China always asserts indisputable sovereignty over the entire South China Sea,” Hernandez said.
Almendras emphasized that the Philippines has taken a peaceful tack in asserting its maritime territorial rights.
“The important thing is that somebody other than us will say that this is so,” Almendras said. “We did not do this as a knee-jerk reaction. This was very well studied.”
The Philippines initiated the arbitration proceedings through a note verbale handed to Ma at the DFA last Jan. 22 by Teresa Lazaro, assistant secretary for Asia-Pacific affairs.
China said the notice of arbitration suffered from “serious mistakes both in fact and law.”
In a statement, the DFA said China’s rejection “will not interfere with the process of arbitration initiated by the Philippines on Jan. 22, 2013.” – With Delon Porcalla
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