WE have made our point in our dispute with China over issues in the South China Sea.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that “China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, by constructing artificial islands, and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the economic zone.”
China had interfered with traditional fishing at Panatag Shoal, also known as Scarborough Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc, just 210 kilometers from the Zambales coastline, well within the Philippines’ economic zone as provided for in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It had also violated Philippine sovereign rights by exploiting for oil and gas near Recto Bank, also known as Reed Bank, in the Spratly island group just west of Palawan.
China had claimed that the two areas were within its territorial waters as defined by a nine-dash line surrounding most of the South China Sea, first claimed by the Republic of China government on Taiwan in 1947, later adopted by the People’s Republic of China government in Beijing. The Arbitral Court, however, ruled that the nine-dash-line claim has no legal basis.
The Arbitral Court ruled that the shoals and reefs that are just rocks above the waves at high tide are not islands with their own economic zones. The artificial islands built by China all over the South China Sea also have no economic zones of their own. The court ruled that China had violated its obligation to refrain from aggravating the dispute while the process was going on.
The ruling that the South China Sea is part of the high seas, not Chinese territorial waters, must have been specially welcomed by the United States which has long claimed freedom of navigation in the area through which pass commercial ships of many nations. The US has repeatedly sent its warships and planes through the area to assert this right.
But it is the fishing and exploration rights that most concern the Philippines. It was a fishing dispute in 2012, when Chinese ships bombarded Philippine fishing boats with water cannons that led the Philippine government to file its case with the Arbitral Court.
As it has repeatedly asserted, China is not recognizing the decision. And the court has no enforcement power. We have a favorable ruling from the court, we have made our point, and now we will have to find ways on carry on in our relations with China.
It might be best to step back and avoid taking any further move that may stir up the situation. With time and people of goodwill on all sides, we are confident that the rift will be healed and a solution to the continuing problem will be found.