China cites int’l law in opposing arbitration

MANILA  — China reiterated its opposition to the arbitration sought by the Philippines before the United Nations’ International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Hong Lei said that disputes on territorial sovereignty such as opposing claims over a portion of the South China Sea are “excluded” in an international convention signed by both parties.

“At the heart of the matter are the disputes between the two sides on the sovereignty over islands and reefs, and delimitation of maritime boundaries,” Hong said in a statement.

Hong made the statement in reaction to the Philippines’ exhaustive, 10-volume memorial filed on Sunday, which consists of over 3,700 pages and more than 40 maps detailing its position.

“Disputes such as these have already been excluded from arbitration procedures through a declaration made by China in 2006 pursuant to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” Hong continued, referring to China’s signed approval of the UNCLOS in August 2006.

China also accused the Philippines anew of “illegal occupation” of islands and reefs, even as it asserts that the maritime features are part of its continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.

“No matter how the Philippine memorial is packaged, the direct cause of the dispute between China and the Philippines is the latter’s illegal occupation of some of China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea,” Hong said.

He also renewed calls for both parties to resume bilateral negotiations instead of a third party settlement.

“China urges the Philippines to comprehensively and effectively implement the consensus repeatedly reaffirmed between the two sides and the [Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea] …  The Philippines is obliged to honor its own commitment,” Hong said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Manila’s pleading contains evidence that the case is within the tribunal’s jurisdiction and seeks relief from the sea row.

The European Journal of International Law had commented on Manila’s difficult hurdle in justifying its claims.

“The Philippines tries to show that its claim is not one relating to boundary delimitations [and] has carefully avoided asking the tribunal to draw a line delimiting the boundaries of its maritime zones and those that belong to China.,” Dapo Akande, editor of the scholarly publication said.

“[The Philippines] would need to show that the dispute it has submitted to the arbitral tribunal falls outside China’s exclusion of jurisdiction … This may not be so easy,” Akande, a professor from Oxford Faculty of Law, also said.

The disputed territories are believed to be sitting on vast oil reserves. China previously sought joint exploration of the potential resources with the Philippines.