July 14, 2022

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China says Philippines’ 2016 arbitral award illegal 

By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

CHINA on Wednesday said a 2016 arbitral ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal that voided its claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea violates international law.

“China neither accepts nor recognizes it and will never accept any claim or action based on the award,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press briefing, according to a transcript posted on the agency’s website.

“By doing so, we are upholding international rule of law,” he added, calling the ruling “illegal, null and void.”

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo has said the findings of the arbitration court “are no longer within the reach of denial and rebuttal, and are conclusive as they are indisputable.”

“The award is final,” he said on the sixth anniversary of the ruling on July 12. “We firmly reject attempts to undermine it; nay, even erase it from law, history and our collective memories. At the same time, we welcome the support of a growing list of countries for the award.”

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in the Hague upheld the Philippines’ rights to its exclusive economic zone within the waterway. It rejected China’s claim to most of the sea based on a 1940 nine-dash line map that Mr. Manalo said “had no basis in law and is without legal effect.”

Several countries have backed the Philippines’ sea claims. Some of the more vocal supporters include the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand and Timor Leste.

But Mr. Wang said China had received “broad understanding and support” from the international community on its position.

“Those who attempt to infringe on China’s sovereignty, rights and interests by implementing this illegal award will not succeed,” he said. “China will respond to such attempts in accordance with law.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs did not immediately reply to a WhatsApp message seeking comment.

China also called out the US, saying it violated and distorted international law.

“It has broken its public commitment of taking no position on sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, and sought to drive a wedge between regional countries and undermine peace and stability in the region,” Mr. Wang said. “This is extremely irresponsible.”

He urged the US to respect its sovereignty, rights and interests in the South China Sea, and to stop “stirring up trouble” and “sowing discord between regional countries.”

The US Embassy did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are fully and effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and working to advance the consultations on a code of conduct in the waterway, Mr. Wang said.

He noted that all sides have agreed to handle the issue through a “dual-track approach” where maritime disputes are handled properly by countries directly concerned through dialogue and consultation. 

The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving the Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.

Mr. Manalo said China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone through its large-scale reclamation and construction of artificial islands that destroyed the environment, in violation of international conventions.

He also cited China’s large-scale harvesting of endangered marine species and actions that aggravated the dispute.

“The award benefits the world across the board,” Mr. Manalo said. “We do not see it as directed at any other country, near or far. We see it as it should be seen — as favoring all which are similarly situated by clarifying definitively a legal situation beyond the reach of arms to change.”

“It puts this aspect of international law beyond the limit of prescription,” he added. “And so we say once again: The present that we need and the future that we want is a peaceful South China Sea. The Philippines is committed to this for as long as it exists.”

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week said he expects relations between China and the Philippines to reach a “golden era” under the Marcos administration.

“I’m confident that with both sides working together, we can surely open up a new golden era for the bilateral relationship,” he said in Chinese during a meeting with Philippine envoys in Pasay City near the capital, a voice recording of which was sent to reporters by DFA.

The Chinese state councilor was the first foreign counterpart to be received by Mr. Manalo, who used to be the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Mr. Wang said he appreciates Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., who called China the country’s “strongest partner.”