‘Arbitration process a peaceful way to solve maritime dispute’

Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - July 12, 2013 - 12:00am

BRUSSELS – The Philippines’ top diplomat has underscored that the arbitral proceedings initiated by Manila to challenge China’s excessive maritime claims do not undermine the consultations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Beijing for the crafting of a Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said before a forum with the theme “Managing the South China Sea and Other Regional Security Issues” at the Brussels Press Club here on Tuesday that the arbitration process is not in conflict with the crafting of the COC because arbitration is one of the dispute settlement mechanisms under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Del Rosario said the Philippines has undertaken several efforts to peacefully engage China and settle disputes, but these were unsuccessful.

He noted that the rules-based resolution and management of disputes in the South China Sea contains two elements: the third-party arbitration of maritime claims, in accordance with the universally recognized principles of international law, specifically UNCLOS; and the early conclusion of a COC on the South China Sea between ASEAN and China.

ASEAN and China agreed at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brunei last month to start formal consultations on the COC for dispute management on the South China Sea.

The consultations will be held during the ASEAN-China Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) this September in China.

Del Rosario said that arbitration under Annex VII and Part XV of UNCLOS is considered a peaceful and durable way of resolving maritime disputes. 

Member-states of the United Nations, through general assembly resolution 37/10, have also declared that arbitration is not an unfriendly act.

“It is unfortunate that despite several invitations, China declined to join us in this peaceful endeavor,” Del Rosario said.

He said China’s position to settle the dispute on a bilateral basis is not correct because there are at least four other ASEAN claimants to the various areas of the South China Sea, “and so we believe that a multilateral approach is the way to do this.”

While the COC is being negotiated, Del Rosario said an intermediate step would be to fully and effectively implement the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

China’s claim of indisputable sovereignty over the entire South China Sea is the core issue of the dispute and its excessive claim is in violation of international law.

“We do not think they have budged from that position. We do not think there is a difference in position between the previous government and this new government. So we think that the challenge remains the same and we are therefore trying to come up with our own response by seeking peaceful means to try to resolve this dispute,” Del Rosario said.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has acknowledged the Philippines’ decision to resolve territorial maritime issues peacefully and within the framework of international law was the right path to take.

Monitoring continues

Meanwhile, a military contingent deployed in Ayungin Shoal in Palawan said they will never abandon their post and will continue to perform their territorial mandate despite the continuing presence of Chinese vessels in the area.

“Rest assured that we will not leave Ayungin,” Western Command (Wescom) commander Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero said yesterday following a mid-year security assessment meeting of military commanders at Camp Aguinaldo.

Guerrero’s military outfit is the Armed Forces’ first line of defense in the western front covering the country’s entire regime of islands in the West Philippine Sea.

He said the Wescom is continuously monitoring the presence of the Chinese vessels in Ayungin, an area being claimed by China as an integral part of its maritime domain. – With  Jaime Laude

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