PH-China dispute 'acid test' for int'l law – Carpio

MANILA, Philippines – The maritime dispute between the Philippines and China will be an "acid test" for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Thursday, August 29.

Either the case will see the rule of law prevailing – and thus render the international law relevant – or it will be ignored by any party that will resort to using military might to resolve the issue.

"The maritime dispute between the Philippines and China is an acid test to the very survival of UNCLOS – whether the Rule of Law will govern the oceans and seas of our planet, or whether the rule of the naval cannon will prevail," Carpio said in a speech to the Philippine Bar Association.

His speech talked about the ongoing dispute over territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The Philippines elevated the dispute to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in January this year.

Carpio likened China's means of asserting its sovereignty over the disputed areas to the methods employed by ancient powers.

"If left to stand, China’s claim will bring the world back to the turbulent maritime era 400 years ago, when nations claimed the oceans and seas and maritime claims were settled through the naval cannon, not through the Rule of Law," he said.

China will start bullying trend

He said that based on international law, there is nothing "historical" or "right" about China's claim, and that no one, aside from China, "recognizes, tolerates or acquiesces in" to the claim.

If the Chinese claim is upheld, Carpio said it will be "the beginning of the end for UNCLOS," saying other naval powers will follow China's lead and take away territory from less powerful states.

"Legal scholars on the law of the sea all over the world are keenly watching the outcome of the Philippines’ arbitration case," he said.

Arbitration 'wise move'

The decision by the Philippines to bring the dispute to the international tribunal was a wise move, because it negates China's military advantage - and is also the "only viable option" for the country, with a weak military.

Aside from the struggle to uphold international law, the dispute is also an "inter-generational struggle" for our territorial integrity and sovereignty.

"After securing a favorable ruling from the arbitral tribunal, our generation must still win over world opinion and convince the Chinese people that they will become a rogue nation if their Government continues to violate international law," he said in his speech.

"The world must explain to the Chinese people that the 9-dashed line claim is contrary to international law. No nation can claim the oceans and seas as its own. That is why it is necessary for the Philippines to first secure a ruling from an international tribunal that the 9-dashed line claim is contrary to international law," Carpio added.

Carpio's speech came as the Philippines prepares to welcome US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is on a tour of Southeast Asia, part of the US' public relations drive bannering its "pivot" to Asia.

On Thursday, Hagel, in a meeting in Brunei, warned fellow defense ministers in Asia that the maritime incidents and tensions in the disputed waters in Asia will increase the risk of a dangerous international confrontation.

China has faced increasing accusations of bullying tactics in asserting its claim to nearly the whole of the strategic South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by several Southeast Asian countries.

Elsewhere, Tokyo and Beijing have played cat and mouse in the East China Sea over disputed islands. Japan earlier this week scrambled fighter jets after a Chinese government plane approached airspace Japan claims as it own.

Hagel is set to arrive in Manila from Bandar Seri Bengawan Thursday evening. He also visited Malaysia and Indonesia earlier this week. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com