In rare move, Indonesia raises Hague ruling vs China

Sofia Tomacruz
In rare move, Indonesia raises Hague ruling vs China
(UPDATED) The move provides an 'important building block' for Manila, which won the historic award against Beijing, says Asia maritime expert Greg Poling

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Indonesian government submitted a rare communication to the United Nations, raising the 2016 Hague ruling that rejects China’s 9-dash line seeking to claim ownership over virtually the entire South China Sea.  

Indonesia stated its position on the matter in a note verbale addressed to UN Secretary General António Guterres on May 26, where it opposed a series of circular notes filed by Being in relation to Malaysia’s application to define the limits of its extended continent shelf. 

In particular, Indonesia cited China’s notes protesting Malaysia’s application itself, and later on, rejecting the Philippines’ and Vietnam’s positions on the matter. 

Indonesia explicitly stated the 2016 Hague ruling the Philippine won against China confirmed the country’s position on maritime features and its entitlements – that “no maritime feature in the Spratly islands is entitled to an exclusive economic zone or a continental shelf of its own.” 

It also cited as illegal China’s sweeping 9-dash line that encroached on several Southeast Asian states’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones, including the Philippines. 

“Indonesia reiterates that the 9-dash line map implying historic rights claim clearly lacks international legal basis and is tantamount to upset UNCLOS 1982,” Indonesia said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

It added: “This view has also been affirmed by the Award of 12 July 2016 by the Tribunal that any historic rights that the People’s Republic of China may have had to the living and non-living resources were superseded by the limits of the maritime zones provided for by UNCLOS 1982.”

The two points are among the main issues of the 2016 arbitral award striking down as illegal China’s claim to historic rights in the South China Sea.

It was not the first time for Indonesia to invoke the Hague ruling against China. In December 2019, it cited the historic ruling in its diplomatic protest against China after a Chinese coast guard vessel trespassed into its exclusive economic zone.

“Our position is clear on this: ‘The ruling [is] a ruling, with or without support from states. It remains a ruling, even when no state gives support to it. The authority of the ruling is derived from UNCLOS 1982, not from the political support of states,'” said a senior Indonesian diplomat who asked not to be named.

Why this matters. Asia maritime expert Greg Poling said Indonesia’s raising of the 2016 Hague ruling is a “important move” as “no other country except Philippines has been so explicit in its support” for the ruling. 

 

While other Southeast Asian states like Vietnam have only implied its support for the ruling, Poling told Rappler “this is the first time any Southeast Asian state has explicitly backed the Philippines.”

Prior to this, Indonesia had cited the Hague’s 2016 decision which said there were no disputed waters between China and Indonesia when protesting the presence of Chinese fishing and coast guard vessels in the Natuna islands. Indonesia does not consider itself a party to territorial disputes in the highly volatile South China Sea. 

Poling told Rappler Indonesia had also worked the ruling into the country’s new map of its waters in 2017, using the tribunal’s precedent on what is and isn’t considered an island.

“This could be an important building block if Manila ever wanted to take up the ruling again,” Poling said. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte – under whose term the victory came after the Philippines’ filed its case in 2012 – has downplayed the victory in exchange for economic benefits from China.

Ways forward. Experts have urged Southeast Asian states to rally behind the 2016 Hague ruling as a way to unite and push back against China aggression in the strategic waterway. 

After the ruling was handed down in 2016, Paul Reichler – who was the Philippines’ lead counsel against China in its case – had said although the award is legally binding only on China and the Philippines, “it has very strong implications for other coastal states in the South China Sea.” – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.