Int'l tribunal not solution to sea tensions
Updated: 2012-05-14 07:48
BEIJING - The Philippines has been seeking an international arbitration to resolve a month-long maritime standoff with Beijing over Huangyan Island in the South China Sea, but a closer look at the proposal easily puts Manila's real motives in question.
Analysts said the proposal lacks legal ground and is not a right solution at all.
Not a solution
Tensions have been running high since the April 10 episode when a Philippine warship entered waters off Huangyan Island and acted under the pretext of "protecting sovereignty" to harass Chinese fishermen, who were taking shelter from a storm in the lagoon.
In a show of what it called restraint, Manila has proposed to bring the disputes to the International Tribunal For the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to decide the ownership of the island.
"We do not wish to escalate any tensions right now," Philipine President Benigno Aquino's spokesman said. "Therefore, what we're doing for now is to just to document the situation ... and consequently raise (it) before the tribunals."
However, analysts doubted whether the proposal, which is short of legal ground, could provide a way out of the current stalemate.
"President Benigno Aquino and his officials have been ... complaining to the world that China is refusing to have the dispute settled by the International Tribunal for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," Rigoberto Tiglao, former ambassador of the Philippines to Athens, said in an article carried on the website of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
"They're in for a surprise: The Philippines isn't also with the UNCLOS -- when it comes to sovereignty disputes like that on Scarborough (known in the West for Huangyan Island)."
He pointed out that back in 1984 when ratifying the treaty, Manila has made it clear that the convention could not apply to its sovereignty disputes.
To put it simply, the Filipinos would deem the treaty null and void when it comes to territorial disputes, Tiglao said.
Aquino has made no mention of such a thing when he proposed to let the international tribunal handle the case.
Unreliable 'shoal mate'
The Philippines said Huangyan Island, an uninhabited shoal, lies well within the country's 230-mile exclusive economic zone that is recognized under the UNCLOS.
It has been convincing its "shoal mate" -- the United States to throw the support behind its territorial claims based on the UNCLOS.
This seems all the more weird because the latter has even yet to endorse the treaty, said Tiglao, also former Presidential Spokesperson of the Philippines.
"It's been awkward -- even comical -- for the Aquino administration to be begging the United States for arms to defend" its claims to Huangyan Island, he said.
The United States is among 34 nations that have not ratified the UNCLOS and therefore officially do not recognize it, he added.
Since China refused to bring the disputes to the international tribunal, some media reports have interpreted Beijing's response as a fear to lose the case.
Yi Ping, a lecturer at the School of Law of Peking University, said Beijing has no obligation to accept the invitation.
As early as 2006, the Chinese government submitted a written statement to the UN, making it clear that China does not accept international arbitration "as described in section 2 of part XV of UNCLOS in disputes ... concerning maritime delimitation, territory and military activities," he said in an article published by the China News Agency on April 27.
By that time, Beijing had already asserted its claims to Huangyan Island in the South China Sea, which means even if the Philippines does bring the case to the ITLOS, China is not obliged to appear in the tribunal, he said.
Tiglao put forward a similar argument, speaking of China's declaration following the ratification of the convention.
"The People's Republic of China reaffirms its sovereignty over all its archipelagos and islands as listed in article 2 of the Law of the People's Republic of China on the territorial sea and the contiguous zone, which was promulgated on February 25, 1992," the document reads.
"That law declared as part of China what it called the Zhongsha Islands, which included Huangyan (Panatag to us)," Tiglao said.
Meanwhile, a brief glimpse of 19 cases submitted to the Tribunal since 1997 showed that maritime disputes, rather than territorial ones, fall within the competence of the organization, he added.
The Philippines said it would go it alone if Beijing insisted on turning down its invitation.
The paradox that Manila is seeking a solution which it had declared earlier it would not recognize raised questions about the true motives behind its aggressive push.
"He (Aquino) insists that the dispute be decided by a court which, however, can't have jurisdiction over it. This President is making us the laughing stock of the world," Tiglao said.
The hardball tactics, Yi said, aimed to complicate the situation instead of appease it.
"The Philippine government, fully aware of the consistent position of the Chinese government, still had its own way to push forward the invitation," he said.
"The purpose is nothing but to discredit the Chinese government as ignoring the international judicial system and rejecting dispute settlement through legal means," he added.