Peace at stake as China, Philippines diplomatic spats getting worst, alarm bells ringing at the high pace in the South China Sea. Both nations are head to head over Scarborough Shoal and Spratlys. China asserts “nine-dash line”, a demarcation, as its territorial claims, while Philippines claim it unlawful under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS.
Along with China and Philippines other nations including Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have similar competing claims in the region making the dispute even more complicated. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the governments other than China with a direct claim on parts of the South China Sea—Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan—nearly doubled their military spending in the decade through 2015 to a combined $30.4 billion.
Although these islands are largely uninhabited may have reserves of natural resources around them. There has been the little-detailed exploration of the area, so estimates are largely extrapolated from the mineral wealth of adjacent areas. The sea is also a major shipping route and home to fishing grounds that supply the livelihoods of people across the region.
With regard to the award rendered on 12 July 2016 by the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration established at the unilateral request of the Republic of the Philippines (hereinafter referred to as the “Arbitral Tribunal”), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China solemnly declares that the award is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognizes it. China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards. China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards.
Above all on the same day, when Arbitral Tribunal announced its award – the US State Department, Assistant Secretary and Spokesperson, Bureau of Public Affairs, John Kirby, in press statement, said the US called the decision an “important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea”, and urged all parties to consider it “final and legally binding”.
John Kirby said the decision last day by the Tribunal in the Philippines-China arbitration is an important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea. “We are still studying the decision and have no comment on the merits of the case, but some important principles have been clear from the beginning of this case and are worth restating. The United States strongly supports the rule of law. We support efforts to resolve territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea peacefully, including through arbitration” he said.
When joining the Law of the Sea Convention, parties agree to the Convention’s compulsory dispute settlement process to resolve disputes. In its decision from October of last year, the Tribunal unanimously found that the Philippines were acting within its rights under the Convention in initiating this arbitration. As provided in the Convention, the Tribunal’s decision is final and legally binding on both China and the Philippines. The United States expresses its hope and expectation that both parties will comply with their obligations. In the aftermath of this important decision, US urge all claimants to avoid provocative statements or actions.
This decision can and should serve as a new opportunity to renew efforts to address maritime disputes peacefully. US stresses that she encourages claimants to clarify their maritime claims in accordance with international law — as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention — and to work together to manage and resolve their disputes. Such steps could provide the basis for further discussions aimed at narrowing the geographic scope of their maritime disputes, setting standards for behavior in disputed areas, and ultimately resolving their underlying disputes free from coercion or the use or threat of force.
On the other side US sent an aircraft carrier and fighter jets to the region ahead of the decision, while the Chinese navy has been carrying out exercises near the disputed Paracel islands. Although, America projected herself as a neutral player on the territorial disputes between the littoral states, it says it has a national interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in the sea, through which one-third of the world’s maritime trade passes but China accuses America of stoking discord between it and its neighbours, and of encouraging them to defy it.
All in all, The United States has already angered China by sending warships close to Chinese-claimed features in the sea on “freedom-of-navigation operations”. Currently, two American aircraft-carrier groups are stationed in the region, apparently, to deter China from taking any provocative steps should the PCA’s decision go against it. China, for its part, has been staging naval drills near the Paracel islands to the north of the sea. The Chinese government reiterates that, regarding territorial issues and maritime delimitation disputes, China does not accept any means of third-party dispute settlement or any solution imposed on China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said China will not accept any proposition or action based on the decision by the South China Sea arbitrarily tribunal. Xi said the South China Sea Islands have been China’s territory since ancient times. China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests in the South China Sea, in any circumstances, will not be affected by the award. He made the remarks while meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Beijing. China has always been a guardian of international rule of law and of fairness and justice, and will always adhere to the path of peaceful development. China is firmly committed to peace and stability in the South China Sea, and to settling the disputes with countries directly involved, through peaceful negotiations based on the recognition of historical facts and in accordance with international law.
China and ASEAN countries signed an important legal document–the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), some ten years ago. According to the DOC, all disputes related to the South China Sea should be addressed and resolved through negotiation and dialogue, and China strictly abides by the DOC principles. So, since the DOC was signed, China had done nothing for ten years in the South China Sea. However, Vietnam and the Philippines have sped up the constructions on islands and reefs since then. More of the countries have decided to stand by with China on the South China Sea issue. They include Cambodia, Angola, Liberia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Senegal.
Consequently, South China Sea has enjoyed decades of peace and commercial prosperity, but has seen a more complex security situation and escalated tensions since the unilateral filing in 2013 by the Philippines and supported by countries outside the region. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has reiterated that the door to dialogue remains open to the Philippines on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law. Beyond that potential trade-off, there is scope for greater investment and trade between China and the Philippines that might cool the context of their territorial disputes, which are likely to be settled soon and probably would be most effectively addressed bilaterally but if not, a storm is in making in whirling waters at the South China Sea.