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Peaceful resolution of territorial disputes

by Francis N. Tolentino

Peaceful resolution of territorial disputes is always the first and pursued option for countries battling over land or sea domain. Our current negotiation with China over the issue of the West Philippine Sea, I believe, is moving forward along more peaceful and cordial lines, with both parties keeping more serene modes while sitting on the negotiation table.

As we wait for the mutually gainful agreement between the Philippine and the Chinese governments, we can only hope to learn from past lessons of harmonious settlements that kept peaceful and healthy diplomatic ties flourishing.

In the past, there have been several accounts of territorial disagreements between countries that culminated in the peaceful resolution of the case and restoration of diplomatic relations between the parties to the discord. In 2014, for example, Indonesia and the Philippines ended nearly twenty years of negotiation over maritime boundaries. From the more distant past, in 1875, the Treaty of St. Petersburg ended the discussions between the Russian Empire and the Empire of Japan over the ownership of Sakhalin Island. Similarly, Bangladesh and India, after thirty years of negotiation, reached agreement in July 2014 over the disputed Bay of Bengal maritime boundary.

Similar stories of peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in already etched in history are the following: 1) Ukraine and Romania over the Black Sea and Snake Island, resolved in 2009 by the International Court of Justice; 2) Norway and United Kingdom from over the Bouvet Island, with Britain renouncing its claim over the Island and settling the conflict in 1929; 3) Mexico and France over Clipperton Island where the disputed territory was declared in favour of France; 4) Qatar and Bahrain over the Hawar Islands declared by the International Court of Justice in The Hague as belonging to Bahrain in June 2001; 5) Malaysia and Indonesia over the Islands of Ligitan and Sipadan decided by the International Court of Justice in 2002 as part of the Malaysia’s territory.

Territorial disputes indeed challenge the peace, progress and stability of the countries involved. Both economic and political interests are put at stake in disagreements involving land or maritime boundaries.As for our current debate with China, peaceful resolution of such discord is therefore crucial if indeed we are to proceed towards regional economic integration.