Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Beijing immune to Manila’s arbitration

By YANG ZEWEI (China Daily) Updated: 2016-06-30 10:40

Beijing immune to Manila’s arbitration

File photo of South China Sea. [Photo/Xinhua]

An arbitral tribunal with widely contested jurisdiction will issue a ruling on July 12 on the South China Sea case unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague said on Wednesday.

Rodrigo Duterte, the president-elect of the Philippines has sent signals that China and the Philippines deserve better ties. But to ensure that bilateral ties improve, Duterte has to take a new approach to Manila’s disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, especially because the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the arbitration case unilaterally filed by Manila will further deteriorate China-Philippines relations.

Irrespective of what The Hague-based court says, however, the ruling will not have any impact on China.

Complicated as they appears to be, the South China Sea disputes between Beijing and Manila are essentially about territorial claims and maritime delimitation, which are beyond the jurisdiction of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The Philippines has illegally laid claim on some reefs and islets of China’s Nansha Islands, including Zhongye Island, since the 1970s, and renamed them “Kalayaan Island Group”. It also opposes China’s inherent sovereignty over Huangyan Island, which it used to call “Scarborough Shoal”. But these disputes are neither reflected in the Philippines’ arbitration nor related to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In 2006, China exercised its right under Article 298 of UNCLOS by making a declaration excluding compulsory arbitration; more than 30 countries have made similar declarations. In other words, Beijing’s refusal to accept or participate in the so-called arbitration is in accordance with international law, whereas Manila’s unilateral behavior is unlawful and unreasonable.

For decades, the Chinese government has been making efforts to maintain peace and stability in the region while trying to resolve disputes through negotiations and consultations between the states that have territorial or maritime disputes with Beijing. The successful maritime delimitation of Beibu Bay with Vietnam in 2000 is a case in point.

As for China and the Philippines, their territorial disputes should be addressed peacefully by the two sides themselves through consultation and negotiation, according to Article 4 of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which was agreed in 2002. Their joint statement on the South China Sea issue in 1995, too, makes similar propositions, which means the arbitration case unilaterally filed by Manila is a violation of the international law.

In addition, the ruling of the arbitration court will not be legally binding on the Beijing-Manila disputes over territorial claims and maritime delimitation in the South China Sea, simply because the Manila has not moved the court on the disputes.

China discovered and named the islands in the South China Sea about 2,000 years ago. Its territorial rights are clearly declared by the Declaration of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea of 1958 and the Law of the People’ s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone of 1992. These two documents make it clear that Dongsha Islands, Xisha Islands, Zhongsha Islands and Nansha Islands belong to China, and therefore will legally nullify the arbitration court’s ruling.

The author is a professor of law at Wuhan University, Hubei province.

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