China ignores deadline to respond to PH case

Ayee Macaraig
China ignores deadline to respond to PH case
China reiterates that it will not accept or participate in the Philippines' case on the South China Sea, snubbing a December 15 deadline to respond

MANILA, Philippines – China missed the deadline to respond to the Philippines’ historic arbitration case on the South China Sea, reaffirming that it rejects the legal process.

On the December 15 deadline, China’s foreign ministry reiterated that Beijing “will neither accept nor participate” in the proceedings before The Hague-based arbitral tribunal. China had only until Monday to respond to the 4,000-page pleading that the Philippines filed last March by submitting a “counter-memorial.” (READ and WATCH: What China’s snub means for PH arbitration case)

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said Monday that arbitration is not the way to solve the dispute, and the tribunal does not have jurisdiction over the case.

We maintain that parties concerned should resolve relevant disputes through consultation and negotiation on the basis of respecting historical facts and international law,” Qin said in a press briefing.

Qin added that all claimant countries should instead follow the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, a non-binding agreement China entered into with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2002.

Four ASEAN members – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei – claim parts of the sea, along with Taiwan.

“The Chinese side is resolute in defending its territory and maritime rights and interests. The Chinese side will have to make [the] necessary response to any intentional and provocative action unilaterally initiated by relevant party,” Qin added.

The Philippines brought China to arbitration in 2013, challenging its controversial 9-dash line. Manila asked the tribunal to uphold its rights to the waters under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China is also a party. 

While China did not submit its own pleading before the tribunal, it released last week a position paper detailing its legal arguments. Beijing said that the tribunal cannot decide the case because it involves territorial sovereignty, which is beyond the scope of the treaty.

Despite China’s non-participation, the tribunal is required under UNCLOS to consider Beijing’s position. It will likely ask the Philippines to respond to written questions and participate in hearings. (READ: Rough seas: Will PH ‘lawfare’ work vs China?)

Countries hotly contest the South China Sea, believed to hold rich deposits of oil and gas, and the route of half of the world’s shipping tonnage.

‘US study supports PH position’

Other countries also weighed in on the issue. Ahead of China’s deadline, the United States released a study saying Beijing failed to clarify its 9-dash line in a way consistent with international law.

A close US ally, the Philippines welcomed on Monday the study of the US State Department.

“The study’s factual account and analyses support the Philippines’ position on the need for peaceful clarification of maritime entitlements in the [sea], which the Philippines is seeking through third-party arbitration under UNCLOS,” said the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). 

The DFA said studies like the US paper “contribute to the substantive literature that supports the primacy and utility of the UNCLOS for the determination of maritime entitlements, and the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes.”

Vietnam also submitted its own comment to the tribunal, saying it wants the court to consider its “legal rights and interests.” Like the Philippines, it acknowledged that the tribunal has jurisdiction over the case, and questioned the 9-dash line. 

Manila said Hanoi’s position is “helpful in terms of promoting the rule of law and in finding peaceful and nonviolent solutions” to the dispute.

International law professor Julian Ku of Hofstra University in New York said Vietnam’s filing has much more political than legal significance. Ku said that there is no process under UNCLOS for third party interventions, and the tribunal has no obligation to consider Hanoi’s position.

“On the other hand, this is a political victory for the Philippines, since it means that Vietnam has tacitly agreed to join a common front against China,” Ku wrote on the blog Opinio Juris.

“The next question: Will Vietnam file its own legal claim and form its own arbitral tribunal? That might push China into a different response, but I would still bet against it.” – Rappler.com

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