The Philippine government’s decision to negotiate with China on its own will not end the protracted territorial claims involving other nations in the South China Sea, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said on Friday.
Nonetheless, Carpio said President Duterte’s policy shift to engage Beijing in bilateral talks was a “logical step” and a “positive development” in implementing the ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last year.
Besides China and the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia are also insisting ownership over parts of the sea, said to be rich in energy reserves and marine resources.
“Clearly, the South China Sea dispute involves both bilateral and multilateral disputes,” Carpio said in an emailed statement to the Inquirer.
“A bilateral negotiation between China and the Philippines can take up only the bilateral disputes between (both countries) … and not the multilateral disputes involving … other states,” he pointed out.
Carpio, who has been championing the country’s claim to the West Philippine Sea—the part of the South China Sea within the country’s 327-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—noted that even nonmembers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) were interested in finding a final solution to the decadeslong sea row.
“The South China Sea dispute also affects nonclaimant states, both within (the) Asean (region) and outside (of it) … These nonclaimant states, which include the US, Japan and Australia, are worried how China’s expansive claim will affect freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, for both commercial and military vessels and aircraft,” he said.
The magistrate noted that Beijing’s disputed nine-dash line asserted ownership of 85.7 percent of the strategic waterway where about $5 trillion in global trade transits every year.
The landmark decision of the international tribunal invalidated China’s nine-dash line and its argument that it had sovereign and historic rights over the disputed sea.
It also upheld the Philippines’ exclusive rights over its EEZ, including Scarborough Shoal, also called Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc.
According to Carpio, the territorial row involving the Philippines and China is “intimately related to all the multilateral disputes and all the other bilateral disputes” as Beijing’s territorial claims are based on its nine-dash-line policy.
“A bilateral negotiation between China and the Philippines on the enforcement of the arbitral award will be a logical step as the award is binding only between China and the Philippines,” the magistrate said.
“However, this will not resolve the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines. Neither will it resolve the multilateral disputes involving China, the Philippines and other states,” he said.
Carpio, however, said that “any bilateral negotiation between China and the Philippines on the enforcement of the arbitral award is a positive development.”
On Thursday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed that Mr. Duterte had “articulated preference for bilateral talks rather than multilateral talks in resolving the dispute” when he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in Vietnam last week.
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