China ramps up rhetoric ahead of UN court ruling
Jose Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - July 7, 2016 - 12:00am

WASHINGTON – Ahead of a ruling by a UN tribunal court on the South China Sea, Beijing has started ramping up its rhetoric in an apparent attempt to downplay the decision expected to favor the Philippines.

The China Daily in a two-page news advertisement in the influential Washington Post on Tuesday said a group of “experts from Asia, Africa, the United States and Europe” at a meeting in The Hague expressed their doubts and concerns about the legality of the ruling.

The experts said any verdict delivered by the tribunal will have no legal validity because China and the Philippines have not reached any agreement to authorize it to intervene in the dispute. They pointed out that the arbitration case was filed unilaterally by the Philippines and China did not attend the hearings.

The China Daily report quoted Tom Zwart, identified as a professor at the School of Law at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, as saying the best way to settle the maritime controversy “is to go back to the negotiating table in an Asian way.”

Other than the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims to the South China Sea, most of which China claims.

“Regarding the complexity of this dispute, with so many parties and interests involved, you could not deal with it within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea because the treaty does not offer procedures to solve the problem,” Zwart said. “So China and its neighbors must sit down to discuss the solutions by themselves.”

The China Daily US website quoted “sources” as saying actions by the Philippines and others after the arbitration ruling is announced on July 12 will determine whether China’s response “will involve words or concrete measures.”

One source said there will be no incident at all if all related parties put aside the arbitration results. “There has been speculation that after the ruling is announced, China will establish an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea or send troops to its Huangyan island (called Panatag by the Philippines),” The China Daily said.

Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said that the wisest approach for the new Philippine government headed by President Duterte and the United States would be to embark on “a cooling treatment” by putting aside the ruling and refraining from hyping it up.

Viet port visit canceled

The Philippine Navy has cancelled the scheduled port visit of one of its warships next week to Vietnam aimed at highlighting growing cooperation between the two navies despite the Philippines and Vietnam’s overlapping maritime claims in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.

Capt. Lued Lincuna, Navy spokesman, announced the cancellation of  BRP Ramon Alcaraz’s visit to Cam Ranh in Vietnam, citing “unavoidable circumstances and change of operational demand.”

“We regret to inform you of the postponement of the scheduled sendoff ceremony (for Vietnam) of BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF16),” Lincuna said in withdrawing an earlier media invitation on FF16’s scheduled departure at Pier 13 in South Harbor tomorrow for Vietnam.

Around 200 personnel from the Naval Task Group 80, surface warfare students, medical team, Naval Special Operations Team and other directorate members with Helicopter Detachment Afloat (AW10) earlier planned to visit the former US naval facility from July 11 to 15. 

The scrapped visit could have been the first by a Philippine warship to Vietnam aimed at demonstrating heightened cooperation between the two navies amid the prevailing regional tension spawned by China’s maritime and territorial claims to almost the entire South China Sea.

Aside from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping maritime claims in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.

The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration has scheduled the release of its verdict on the Philippines case questioning the legality of Beijing’s South China Sea nine-dash-line maritime and territorial claim on July 12.

“That’s the major reason (court verdict) why the port visit of BRP Alcaraz to Cam Ranh was cancelled, because we only have a handful of capable warships,” a Camp Aguinaldo insider said.

He explained the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as part of its mandate, must be prepared to deal with possible scenarios following the verdict of the international court.

China has repeatedly declared that it will not honor the court ruling, that its sovereign rights over the disputed region are “indisputable” and should not be subjected to any form of arbitration.

It also previously declared it would not yield an inch of its territory in the South China Sea and is ready to protect its sovereign rights. – With Jaime Laude

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