West hails arbitral ruling on SCS, but warns China

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks with reporters during a news conference in this file photo.

THE Philippines yesterday celebrated the 5th year of its victory in its case against China’s “excessive” claims in the South China Sea, handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague.Democratic countries sent their congratulations, expressing a desire to keep the strategic waters peaceful and open to commerce and trade.

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, led the celebratory mood, saying: “Five years ago today, the Philippines scored an important victory for the rule of the law in the South China Sea. The United States stands by its allies and partners in defending their maritime rights and standing up for freedom of the seas.”

Canada followed its congratulatory message: “This decision is a significant milestone and a useful basis for peacefully resolving disputes in the South China Sea.

“On the fifth anniversary of the decision by the tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [Unclos] in the matter of the South China Sea Arbitration, Canada reiterates the need for all involved parties to comply with it.

“It is imperative that all parties in the region demonstrate restraint and avoid taking action unilaterally, as this would exacerbate tensions and threaten regional stability.

“Canada is particularly concerned by China’s escalatory and destabilizing actions in the East and South China Seas, including, recently, off the Philippine coast, and by the militarization of disputed features and the use of naval, coast guard and maritime militia vessels to intimidate and threaten the ships of other states.

“We call on all states, including China, to live up to previous commitments made in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea.”

Meanwhile, Canada noted that Asean members and China have resumed negotiations to develop a code of conduct for the South China Sea. “We encourage transparency in these negotiations and reiterate that the agreement should not derogate from the rights that parties enjoy under international law or prejudice the rights of third parties.”

Canada affirmed its commitment “to defending and revitalizing an effective rules-based international order, including for the oceans and seas, and to the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law.”

The German Embassy in Manila said in a statement: “Today is the 5th Anniversary of the South China Sea Arbitration ruling. It confirmed the relevance of a rules-based international maritime order in the context of increasing globalization and international relations.

“The entire world benefits from a peaceful, safe and stable South China Sea, an important maritime trade route, where international law including Unclosis observed and a rules-based order respected. The ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration is a significant milestone towards that achievement.”

However, Germany noted that, five years since the ruling, “the work for a stable and peaceful Indo-Pacific must continue.”

On January 22, 2013, the Philippines instituted arbitral proceedings against China under Annex VII of Unclos.

The proceedings, called the South China Sea Arbitration, concerned, among others, China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea, the status of certain maritime features there and the lawfulness of certain actions by China there that the Philippines deemed violations of Unclos.

EU greeting

The European Union also sent its greetings on the ruling’s anniversary via Twitter: “What happens in the South China Sea matters to the EU, Asean and the whole world.

“We further reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability, safety, and the right of freedom of navigation and in overflight above the South China Sea, as well as the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, particularly Unclos.

This was agreed by EU and Asean senior officials on July 8, 2021.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., thanked all of those who congratulated the country for its victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

He said “The Award conclusively settled the status of the historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea. It declared as without legal effect claims that exceed geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Washington’s security vow

The United States affirmed its security commitment to the Philippines on the fifth anniversary of the arbitration ruling, a victory that a group said has “eroded” and softened under the Duterte presidency.

“The United States reaffirms its July 13, 2020 policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, referring to the previous statement of his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, who called China’s claims in the South China Sea as “completely unlawful.”

“We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” Blinken added in a statement issued on July 11, US time, which was provided by the US Embassy.

Meanwhile, statement from 1Sambayan headed by retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio lamented that while the UN has ruled in favor of the Philippines and “invalidated China’s nine-dash line which it had been using to justify its encroachment into the country’s territory and maritime zone, Manila’s position gradually weakened under the current administration.

The group deplored that “the five years that followed that decisive event led to a gradual erosion of our strong position in the WPS and a continued diminution of our maritime rights. Yes, we won in 2016. But today, not only has the Duterte administration allowed a growing Chinese presence in WPS, but it also has—in the eyes of every patriotic Filipino —refused to assert and defend our sovereign territory and sovereign rights,” the group said.

“Instead of capitalizing on our victory five years ago and building on the gains, President Duterte worsened our position,” it added.

Chinese vessels, it noted, still loitersin the KIG and in the WPS, the latter of which had been earlier conceded by Duterte as in the “physical control” of China due to the massive presence of Chinese maritime militia ships in those waters.

Carpio’s group urged Filipinos to look for leaders who could assert the country’s rights over its territorial waters.

“It is not too late. We hope to change that by finding leaders who will not betray our nation nor surrender our sovereignty and sovereign rights in the WPS, who will fight for what is ours, and who will continue the gains we won in 2016,” it said.

Blinken called on China to honor its commitment under international law, adhere to the UN ruling and stop harassing its smaller neighbors in pursuit of its claims which had been firmly rejected as it had “no basis in international law.”

“We call on the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to abide by its obligations under international law, cease its provocative behavior, and take steps to reassure the international community that it is committed to the rules-based maritime order that respects the rights of all countries, big and small,” he said.

“The Tribunal stated that the PRC has no lawful claim to the area determined by the Arbitral Tribunal to be part of the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.  The PRC and the Philippines, pursuant to their treaty obligations under the Law of the Sea Convention, are legally bound to comply with this decision,” he added.

The US official said that the rules-based maritime order is greatly threatened in the South China Sea by way of China, which it noted “continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway.”

At Camp Aguinaldo, a military official said that while the Armed Forces of the Philippines has no “official” statement on the marking of the ruling’s anniversary, its “personnel, units and other resources” are… “safeguarding our interests not only in the WPS but also in other areas.”

Image courtesy of AP/Alex Brandon
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