Beijing rejects Manila move

Updated: 2013-04-27 01:49

By ZHOU WA (China Daily)

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China on Friday rejected an attempt by the Philippines to seek an international arbitration tribunal verdict on the South China Sea issue, urging Manila to solve the problem through bilateral negotiation.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the remarks in a statement, saying Beijing "firmly and consistently opposes the illegal occupation of islands and reefs by the Philippines, and demands the Philippines withdraw all its nationals and facilities from them".

On Thursday, Manila said the international arbitration court had set up a tribunal to hear the case.

Hua said that by initiating the arbitration on the basis of its illegal occupation, the Philippines has distorted the basic facts relating to disputes between the two countries. It is attempting to deny China's territorial sovereignty, and hide its illegal occupation behind a cloak of legality, Hua said. The Philippines' attempt to seek a so-called durable solution, and the means it has used, are "absolutely unacceptable to China", she said.

In a notification on Jan 22, Manila said it "does not seek a determination of which party enjoys sovereignty over the islands claimed by both of them", but it later also publicly stated that the purpose of initiating the arbitration is to bring "a durable solution" to disputes on the South China Sea between the two countries.

Hua said these statements are simply "self-contradictory".

Meanwhile, she said the compulsory dispute settlement procedures as contained in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea should not apply to the claims for arbitration as raised by the Philippines, given the fact that Sino-Philippine territorial disputes remain unresolved.

The claims for arbitration as raised by the Philippines are essentially concerned with maritime delimitation between the two countries in parts of the South China Sea, and "thus inevitably involve the territorial sovereignty over certain relevant islands and reefs," Hua said.

"Such issues of territorial sovereignty are not the ones concerning the interpretation or application of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea," Hua said. She said the request for arbitration by the Philippines is manifestly unfounded.

China made a declaration in pursuance of Article 298 of the Convention in 2006, excluding disputes regarding such matters as those related to maritime delimitation from the compulsory dispute settlement procedures, including arbitration.

Observers said Manila's effort to push for the establishment of the tribunal abuses the Convention and is politically motivated.

Gong Yingchun, an expert on international law with the Beijing-based China Foreign Affairs University, said the Convention has limited the use of compulsory dispute settlement procedures. Manila's move is challenging the law itself.

Gao Jianjun, a professor at the School of International Law at the China University of Political Science and Law, said, "Beijing has shown consistency in its pursuit of a peaceful resolution of international disputes."

Political considerations are behind Manila's latest proposal, he said.

Manila took the South China Sea dispute to an arbitration tribunal on Jan 22, but China rejected it in February and returned a note and related notice to the Philippines.

Hua said China has been persistent in pursuing bilateral negotiations and consultations with the Philippines to resolve relevant disputes, in the interest of maintaining Sino-Philippine relations and peace and stability in the South China Sea.

It is a commitment undertaken by all signatories, the Philippines included, under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) that disputes relating to territorial and maritime rights and interests "be resolved through negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned therewith".

Hua said: "China will adhere to the means of bilateral negotiations to resolve territorial and maritime delimitation disputes both in accordance with applicable rules of international law and in compliance with the spirit of the DOC."