MANILA, Philippines – Mark this week: November 24 to 30.
During these days, the Philippines aims to demolish – once and for all – China’s expansive claim over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) before a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
“The oral hearing on the merits of the Philippines-China arbitration case under Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) will be held from November 24 to November 30, 2015, in The Hague, Netherlands,” the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a brief statement Tuesday, November 10.
The merits refer basically to the meat of Manila’s historic case against Beijing.
UNCLOS is the so-called Constitution for the Oceans.
The Philippines is using UNCLOS to debunk China’s claim over the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines' arguments revolve around the right to fish, as well as to exploit other resources, in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: EXPLAINER: Philippines’ 5 arguments vs China)
China, on the other hand, is claiming the disputed waters using the so-called 9-dash line, a demarcation that is not found in UNCLOS.
China asserts that the 9-dash line is based on its historical rights. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court, however, says that even China’s ancient maps contradict China’s arguments. (READ: Top Philippine judge uses Chinese maps vs China)
China to Philippines: Meet us halfway
The November hearings come weeks after the Philippines won round one of its case against China in The Hague.
The tribunal in The Hague unanimously decided it has the right to hear Manila’s case against Beijing.
The tribunal effectively rejected China's strongest argument against the Philippines: that the tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has no right to hear the Philippines' case.
China, for its part, has consistently refused to join the arbitration proceedings.
Still, on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a rare bilateral meeting with Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario – the first in two years. Wang, aside from preparing for the Philippine trip of Chinese President Xi Jinping, wanted “exchange views on how to improve the relationship between China and the Philippines.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei explained: “The bilateral relationship is beset by difficulties due to reasons known to all. This is not what the Chinese side wants to see. The Chinese side attaches importance to its relationship with the Philippines and stays committed to properly resolving relevant issues through consultations and negotiations.”
Hong added: “It is hoped that the Philippine side will meet China halfway, implement the important consensus reached by leaders of the two countries during last year's APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, constructively handle relevant issues, and create the atmosphere and conditions for the return of bilateral relations to the right course of development.” – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.