If China truly believes that it owns almost all of the South China Sea, it should have asserted its claims long ago and begun their massive reclamation activities turning reefs into artificial islands, in areas even within the boundaries of neighboring countries.
Resorting to legal remedies in face of the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, our government brought the case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) based in The Hague in 2013.
Last Thursday, the Hague-based panel ruled that it has jurisdiction and can hear the case, rejecting China’s argument that the dispute was about territorial sovereignty and beyond the tribunal’s authority.
The decision was welcomed by Filipinos, especially our fishermen who were given a glimmer of hope after having been bullied time and again by Chinese forces and prevented from fishing in our own waters.
The following day, a Chinese diplomat stated that China would neither participate in nor accept the case. This was expected since the PCA ruling was a major blow to the claims of China, based on a supposed historic “nine-dash line” that takes in about 90 percent of the disputed waters.
Bear in mind that the Philippines filed the case to seek a ruling on its territorial right based on the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) set for each country under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
When the panel decides in the succeeding hearings on the merits of our country’s arguments, which are all legal and recognized under international law, not a few believe China and its purportedly nine-dash line are done for. China’s decision to boycott the hearings will not deprive the PCA of its jurisdiction on the case.
The Philippines and China are both signatories to the UNCLOS and should thereby abide by its rulings.
Seemingly, however, China recognizes its own laws and no one else’s. If the tribunal decides in favor of the Philippines, the whole world will focus its attention on China. Will it remain defiant against international law and continue to lord it over the South China Sea? This we have to see…
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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email email@example.com or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at http://www.tempo.com.ph/category/opinion/firing-line/ (ROBERT B. ROQUE JR.)