For the first time in many months of years, newspapers in the Philippines had one common banner headline after a United Nations tribunal upheld the Philippines position over the West Philippine Sea, the South China Sea and the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS). At the same time, thePermanent Court of Arbitration under the aegis of UN dashed China’s nine-dash line and claims over the vast international waters where trillions of dollars worth of cargoes pass each year.
In its own words, the international tribunal stated: "The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’," referring to a demarcation line on a 1947 map of the sea, which is rich in energy, mineral and fishing resources. "[A]s between the Philippines and China, China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention."
The tribunal added: “Having found that none of the features claimed by China was capable of generating an exclusive economic zone, the Tribunal found that it could—without delimiting a boundary—declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.” Also, it said: “Having found that certain areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, the Tribunal found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by (a) interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, (b) constructing artificial islands and (c) failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone,” it added.
Moreover, the Tribunal held that Chinese law enforcement vessels had unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels. The Tribunal also sided with the claims of environmental groups that China’s large-scale land reclamation to construct artificial islands on top of disputed maritime features was causing “severe harm to the coral reef environment, ” pointing out that China “violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened, or endangered species.”
The Tribunal thus clearly stated that China has violated Philippine sovereign rights. Despite China’s insistence that the ruling was not binding on the country, it is but proper that China accept and respect the unprecedented ruling and stop its massive reclamation and buildup of military facilities in the region, stop preventing Filipinos, Vietnamese and Taiwanese from fishing in the waters in the contested areas and support mineral and geological resources studies in the region. Cannot China co-exist without sowing fear in the region? Let’s have peaceful co-existence and enjoy natural resources and not ignite a flashpoint for military confrontation and war where we will all be losers. China, the world is watching you.