Wednesday, 20 February 2013

China rejects Philippine application for UN arbitration over disputed territories

China's Foreign Minister Hong Lei announced on 19 February that Beijing has rejected the Philippines' application for international arbitration over both states claims to disputed territory in the South China Sea which is known as the West Philippine Sea by Manila. The latter's Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert del Rosario, had announced on 22 January that the Philippines had taken the step of bringing China before an Arbitral Tribunal, under Article 287 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The move followed nearly 17 years of unsuccessful bilateral discussions, initiated by the Philippines in 1995, over sovereignty of the potentially oil-rich waters.

China lays claim to, and controls, virtually the entire area, despite six countries claiming maritime territory in the South China Sea. This horseshoe-shaped area, delineated by China's so-called “nine-dash line”, stretches over a vast area that Beijing claims historical rights to. Rosario argues that this territory encompasses not only the entire South China Sea but also violates Philippine rights to a Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone, an EEZ and a continental shelf, as stipulated by UNCLOS.

China's rejection of arbitration comes amid growing tension in Asian waters. Last year saw a standoff involving Chinese military ships and Philippine vessels after the former took control of the Scarborough Shoal, referred to by China as Nansha, over 500km due West of Manila. Following that incident, in which the Philippines eventually withdrew, China also engaged in military drills in the East China Sea, a clear show of force to Japan over their ownership of the disputed islets of Senkaku. The Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs has said that he will not be deterred by China's intransigence and will continue to press for arbitration over the regional hegemon's “excessive claim”.

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