To give more information and insight about the current behavior and actions of China and its effects on neighboring states towards territorial claims, a lecture-forum entitled “The South China Sea/West Philippine Sea Dispute” was given by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio last Dec. 11 at the Finster Auditorium of the Ateneo de Davao University.
The forum mainly discussed how the Chinese government controls and claims various reefs, shoals, and other areas which are allegedly encompassed by their 9-dash line even though the said areas are within the range of the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of different states.
It also discussed how China’s actions violate international laws and treaties.
Relevance of the issue
With regard to the Philippine case against China about the disputed Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal, Carpio said China’s reclamation acts will severely affect the Philippine economy.
“What is involved here is 80% percent of our EEZ in the South China Sea. That is where we get 20% of our fish in the South China Sea. If we cannot do that, fish will be scarcer by that amount. That is also where we get 40% of our energy for Luzon, [which] means if we cannot get that, we have a problem with either having rotating brownouts or we have to import natural gas and put up facilities to distribute it,” he said.
He further stated that it is important to stop China’s actions for the benefit of the Filipino people.
“We do not know what are the natural resources that lie beneath the seabed of the EEZ. There might be copper, manganese, gold, oil; we will lose all of that. And the Filipino people will not be able to enjoy the resources that really belong to us. So imagine, what we will lose is about 381,000 square kilometers of marine space waters, larger than our total land area of 300,000 square kilometers,” he said.
Many people, especially law students, received the event positively. Emiko Antonette Escovilla from the Ateneo College of Law shared that the forum served as a reminder of the need to study law.
“It’s immensely relevant. It isn’t often that a law student is able to apply what he/she learns from Public International Law to a current event, moreso one which involves his/her own country. It reminds us that there’s always a bigger picture, a deeper reason why we need to study the law,” she said.
Illegal ‘claim’ of the high seas
“China is claiming the high seas,” Carpio stated with regard to China’s actions of claiming areas.
According to the discussion, China claimed many areas including but not limited to:
- The Reed Bank in 2013 even though it is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone;
- Also the Luconia Shoals in 2013, even though they were legally administered by the Malaysian government;
- The Cuarteron Reef, although claimed by the Philippines as part of Kalayaan, Palawan;
- The Fiery Cross Reef, a Vietnamese claimed area;
- And more recently, the Scarborough Shoals and Spratly Islands in 2014 which are both within the Philippine EEZ among others.
Carpio stated that China claims that its 9-dash line encompasses of all the said areas. He further explained that if this were true, then it also includes the high seas which are located in-between the different PRC-claimed areas.
According to the 1958 Convention of the High Seas, the said seas are open waters and all nations are free to pass across them.
The rules of the Convention indicate that no State or government may hold any claim over them and that they are not part of any territorial waters.
Chinese military actions
In his talk, Carpio presented various military-related actions by China with regard to the occupied areas.
The Chinese government has been transforming the reefs in shoals into artificial islands. And after the completion of the islands, military and air force bases are constructed on their surfaces.
In 2014, China installed an HD 981 Oil Rig in the Vietnamese EEZ. Furthermore, in the same year, it also held a sovereignty oath swearing ceremony at James Shoal, another disputed area legally claimed by the Malaysian government.
In the ceremony, the Chinese People Liberation Army (PLAN) took an oath to protect the borders of China.
In the same year, the said country also commenced the construction of Fiery Cross Reef into an island where an airstrip base and a seaport will be constructed.
Violation of other int’l laws
Carpio stated that in China’s note verbale the country “has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters and enjoys sovereign and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil thereof.”
Carpio further said China refused to explain the meaning of “adjacent” or “relevant” since these are not terms used by United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
He also presented that the Chinese government violated several UNCLOS laws such as:
- Article 192 of UNCLOS mandates, “States have the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.” China’s massive island-building in the Spratlys is destroying the marine environment.
- Article 123 of UNCLOS requires coastal states in semi-enclosed seas to “cooperate with each other in the exercise of their rights and in the performance of their duties under this Convention xxx with respect to the protection and preservation of the marine environment.” China built islands on seven geologic features in the Spratlys, in the process destroying at least ten other reefs, without notifying and consulting with other coastal states.
- Under international law, parties to arbitration have the obligation “not to aggravate the dispute pending its settlement,” and the obligation, “not to create an irremediable situation and in particular not to frustrate the purpose” of the arbiters.
Effects on neighboring countries
In his talk, Carpio stated that if the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas (ITLOS) sides with the Philippines in its case regarding the Spratly Islands and the validity of the 9-dash line against China, all states in Asia will benefit from it.
“Because the 9-dash line encloses our EEZ, it also encloses on 50 percent of the EEZ of Vietnam, about 80 percent of the EEZ of Malaysia facing the South China Sea, about 30 percent of the EEZ of Indonesia in Luconai space in the South China Sea, and about 90 percent of the EEZ of Brunei, so it affects them immensely.
“So if we win, they also win. They can use the same ruling to say that China cannot enclose their maritime zones also because the 9-dash lines have been declared void by the tribunal,” Carpio said.