China’s claims ‘invalid, contrary to UNCLOS’ – Del Rosario

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The Philippines on Tuesday, January 22 announced that it will bring its maritime dispute with China to the UN-sponsored International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea

TAKING CHINA TO COURT Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario. Photo courtesy of DFA

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Tuesday, January 22 announced that it will bring its maritime dispute with China to the UN-sponsored International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

Below is the full statement from foreign secretary Albert del Rosario:

This afternoon, the Philippines has taken the step of bringing China before an Arbitral Tribunal under Article 287 and Annex VII of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in order to achieve a peaceful and durable solution to the dispute over the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

At around 1 pm this afternoon, the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines H.E. Ma Keqing was summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs and was handed a Note Verbale by Assistant Secretary Teresa Lazaro.

The Note Verbale contains the Notification and Statement of Claim that challenges before the Arbitral Tribunal the validity of China’s nine-dash line claim to almost the entire South China Sea (SCS) including the WPS and to desist from unlawful activities that violate the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines under the 1982 UNCLOS.

I furnish you with a copy of the Note Verbale with the Notification and Statement of Claim. This Notification initiates the arbitral proceedings under Article 287 and Annex VII of UNCLOS.

Peaceful and rules-based approach to disputes

The initiation of Arbitral Proceedings against China on the nine-dash line is an operationalization of President Aquino’s policy for a peaceful and rules-based resolution of disputes in the WPS in accordance with international law specifically UNCLOS.

The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China. On numerous occasions, dating back to 1995, the Philippines has been exchanging views with China to peacefully settle these disputes. To this day, a solution is still elusive. We hope that the Arbitral Proceedings shall bring this dispute to a durable solution.

Our legal position before this UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal is explained in this carefully crafted Notification and Statement of Claim. I invite the media to study closely the legal document we have given you so as to accurately report on the Philippine legal position.

Allow me, however, to highlight some salient points in the Notification and Statement of Claim:

  1. The Philippines asserts that China’s so-called nine-dash line claim that encompasses virtually the entire South China Sea/West Philippine Sea is contrary to UNCLOS and thus unlawful.
  2. Within the maritime area encompassed by the 9-dash line, China has also laid claim to, occupied and built structures on certain submerged banks, reefs and low tide elevations that do not qualify as islands under UNCLOS, but are parts of the Philippine continental shelf, or the international seabed.
  3. In addition, China has occupied certain small, uninhabitable coral projections that are barely above water at high tide, and which are “rocks” under Article 121 (3) of UNCLOS.
  4. China has interfered with the lawful exercise by the Philippines of its rights within its legitimate maritime zones, as well as to the aforementioned features and their surrounding waters.

UNCLOS to establish PH, China’s rights

The Philippines is conscious of China’s Declaration of August 25, 2008 under Article 298 of UNCLOS (regarding optional exceptions to the compulsory proceedings), and has avoided raising subjects or making claims that China has, by virtue of that Declaration, excluded from arbitral jurisdiction.

In this context, the Philippines is requesting the Arbitral Tribunal to issue an Award that, among others:

  • Declares that China’s rights in regard to maritime areas in the South China Sea, like the rights of the Philippines, are those that are established by UNCLOS, and consist of its rights to a Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone under Part II of UNCLOS, to an EEZ under Part V, and to a Continental Shelf under Part VI
  • Declares that China’s maritime claims in the SCS based on its so-called nine-dash line are contrary to UNCLOS and invalid
  • Requires China to bring its domestic legislation into conformity with its obligations under UNCLOS
  • Requires that China desist from activities that violate the rights of the Philippines in its maritime domain in the West Philippine Sea

Claim ‘well founded’

The Philippines asserts that the Arbitral Tribunal has jurisdiction to hear and make an award based on its Notification and Statement of Claim because the dispute is about the interpretation and application by States Parties of their obligations under the UNCLOS. Article 287 (1) of UNCLOS provides that “settlement of disputes concerning the interpretation and application of this Convention” may be referred by the Parties for resolution under Part XV of UNCLOS.

The Philippines further asserts that the claim is well founded in fact and law based on the Notification and Statement of Claims and supplementary documents that will be submitted in the course of the arbitral proceedings.

Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza is the agent or legal representative for the Philippines in this Arbitral Proceedings. The lead counsel of the Philippines is Mr. Paul Reichler of Foley and Hoag LLP.

The Philippines has always asserted that international law including UNCLOS will be the great equalizer in resolving this dispute over the West Philippine Sea.

While we proceed with the legal track, the Philippines continuous to exert all efforts to move forward and enhance its relations with China on the basis of mutual respect.

We strongly believe that this action is the appropriate response to put our diplomatic relations in its proper context.

We hope that China would join us in this aspiration. –

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