Highlights of ruling: China violated Philippine sovereign rights

Carmela Fonbuena
Highlights of ruling: China violated Philippine sovereign rights
The UN-backed tribunal declares Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, and Reed Bank form part of the Philippines' 200 nautical exclusive economic zone and continental shelf

CARDIFF, United Kingdom (3rd UPDATE) – The United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague junked China’s sweeping “nine-dash-line” claim over the South China Sea and categorically declared some of its actions as unlawful violations of Philippine sovereign rights.

“The Tribunal found that China had violated the Philippine’s sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone, by interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, constructing artificial islands and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone,” the ruling said. 

The tribunal declared that Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, and Reed Bank form part of the Philippines’ “200 nautical exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.”

There are no overlaps with “any possible entitlement of China” because the tribunal ruled that all maritime features in the Spratly Islands – including the 7 reclaimed reefs – are “rocks” that do not generate exclusive economic zones.

The tribunal also held that the Spratly Islands “cannot generate maritime zones collectively as a unit.”

China has reclaimed Mischief Reef, has repeatedly blocked Philippine Navy operations in Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin), and harassed Philippine exploration vessels in Reed Bank. 

Scarborough Shoal

The tribunal also upheld the “traditional fishing rights” of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal, a Filipino fishing ground off the coast of Zambales province that has been practically occupied by the Chinese coast guard since the 2012 standoff between the two countries. (READ: Timeline: The Philippines-China maritime dispute)

The tribunal did not decide on the sovereignty of Scarborough Shoal, but merely recognized it as a traditional fishing ground for many nationalities, including Filipinos and Chinese. 

“[The Tribunal] would reach the same conclusion with respect to the traditional fishing rights of Chinese fishermen if the Philippines were to prevent fishing by Chinese nationals at Scarborough Shoal,” the ruling said.

Scarborough Shoal, located about 100 nautical miles from Zambales provinces, is separate from the Spratly Islands. Unlike Mischief Chief, Second Thomas Shoal, and Reed Bank, the tribunal said it is above water at high tide. It is entitled to a territorial sea but traditional fishing rights are not extinguished.

Environmental obligations

The tribunal slammed China for violating its environmental obligations, causing “severe harm to the coral reef environment” by reclaiming 7 features in the Spratly Islands and by allowing its citizens to harvest endangered maritimes species.

The tribunal also castigated China for “aggravating” the dispute by reclaiming reefs and risking sea collisions when it “physically obstructed Philippine vessels.”

 

The ruling is “final and binding,” the ruling added. 

These are the highlights of the historic ruling:

  • “The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’. “
  • “Having found that Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank are submerged at high tide, form part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines, and are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China, the Tribunal concluded that the Convention is clear in allocating sovereign rights to the Philippines with respect to sea areas in its exclusive economic zone.” 

  • “The Tribunal found that China had violated the Philippine’s sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone, by (a) interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, (b) constructing artificial islands and (c) failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.” 
  • “Because Scarborough Shoal is above water at high tide, it generates an entitlement to a territorial sea, its surrounding waters do not form part of the exclusive economic zone, and traditional fishing rights were not extinguished by the Convention. Although the Tribunal emphasized that it was not deciding sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, it found that China had violated its duty to respect the traditional fishing rights of Philippine fishermen by halting access to the Shoal after May 2012.”

  • “The tribunal noted that the reefs have been heavily modified by land reclamation and construction, recalled that the Convention classifies features on their natural condition, and relied on historical materials in evaluating the features….Having found that none of the features claimed by China was capable of generating an exclusive economic zone, the Tribunal found that it could – without delimiting a boundary – declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.”
  • “The Tribunal further held that Chinese law enforcement vessels had unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels.”

Upholding UNCLOS

China’s “nine-dash-line” claim covers almost the entire South China Sea, a cow tongue drawn from China’s Hainan island in the north to the waters of Vietnam in the west and the Philippines in the east. 

The tribunal said China’s claims to historic rights over the seas are “extinguished” in cases that they are incompatible with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

This was the main contention of the Philippines, which asked the tribunal to uphold UNCLOS, which grants countries exclusive rights to explore, exploit, and develop maritime features 200 nautical miles from its baselines. 

Both China and the Philippines are signatories to the UNCLOS, but China has refused to participate in the proceedings. – Rappler.com

 

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