Thursday, 21 April 2011 19:18
China has accused the Philippines of “invading” the South China Sea which it claims as wholly its own, the first time it has ever done so.
“Since 1970s, the Republic of the Philippines started to invade and occupy some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Islands and made relevant territorial claims, to which China objects strongly,” China said in a note verbale submitted April 14 to the United Nations in reply to the protest lodged by the Philippines on April 5.
“The Republic of the Philippines’ occupation of some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha islands as well as other related acts constitutes infringement upon China’s territorial sovereignty,” according to the note verbale.
Early this month, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China’s 9-dash line territorial claim over the whole of South China Sea, including the Spratlys group, a cluster of oil-rich islands disputed by the Philippines, China and three other countries.
The protest was lodged nearly two years after China filed its 9-dash line map to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Other claimants, Vietnam and Malaysia, filed their protests the day after China filed its claim in May 2009. Indonesia, which is not among the claimants, filed its protest over China’s map last year.
Of all four diplomatic protests lodged against China’s 9-dash line map, it was only the Philippine protest that China singled out through its note verbale to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
The exchange of diplomatic protests came after President Benigno Aquino III reportedly moved back plans to visit Beijing on May 23-25.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Liu Jianchao was to meet with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on April 14, the day China filed its note verbale to the UN, supposedly to explain his country’s reply and reaffirm the date mutually agreed on for the state visit.
The 3 p.m. meeting was cancelled at the last minute due to Del Rosario’s unavailability. There was a two-day joint consultation on border cooperation with Malaysia at the time.
China’s diplomatic protest branded the contents of the Philippines’ April 5 note as “totally unacceptable to the Chinese government.”
In addition to its usual position of asserting sovereignty and jurisdiction in the South China Sea and citing historical and legal evidence, China this time contended that the Philippines had never made any claims to Nansha Islands or any of its components in the series of international treaties that define the limits of the territory of the Philippines and its domestic legislation before 1970.
China said the “so-called Kalayaan Island Group claimed by the Philippines is part of China’s Nansha Islands” which, it said, has been clearly defined. It said it has given publicity since the 1930s to this claim over Nansha’s geographical scope and the names of its components.
China’s language in its recent diplomatic protest is unlike its usual phraseology of reiterating “Nansha Islands have been part of the territory of China since ancient time and that it has indisputable sovereignty over it and its surrounding maritime areas.”
It has now used stronger language and mentioned the strong objection it has made each time as basis for its consistent position that any claim by any other nation to territorial sovereignty over the Spratlys chain in the South China Sea is null and void.
Refuting the Philippines’ assertion of sovereignty and jurisdiction over the waters around or adjacent to each relevant geological feature in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) by virtue of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’s (UNCLOS) principle of “la terre domine la mer” or “the land dominates the sea,” China said the Philippines can in no way invoke such “illegal” occupation to support its territorial claims under the legal doctrine, “ex injuria jus non oritur,” or “a right cannot rise from a wrong.”
China, through its Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, asserted that under the legal principle “the land dominates the sea,” the coastal states’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf claims shall not infringe upon the territorial sovereignty of other states.
“Under the relevant provisions of the 1982 UNCLOS, as well as the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone (1992) and the Law on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf of the PROC (1998), China’s Nansha Islands is fully entitled to Territorial Sea, EEZ and Continental Shelf,” China’s diplomatic protest stated.
The Philippine protest that China replied to similarly in a note verbale before the UN Commission on the Law of the Sea came at a stressful time in their bilateral relations after China executed three Filipino drug convicts on March 30, despite a request for leniency from Aquino. It also came after the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest on March 3 over Chinese incursion into Reed Bank, 250 kilometers west of Palawan, where an oil exploration is ongoing. Reed Bank is part of the KIG and is also being claimed by China and Vietnam.
A senior official at the Department of Foreign Affairs said the protest must be “delinked” from the March 30 executions. While the Philippine protest was expected, it was to China’s wonder why it took time.
“It took time for us because the relations that we have nurtured over the decade are important to us. Our excellent relations are paramount. We don’t want to mar it,” the official said. “But since it infringes on our sovereignty, we have to do something. Otherwise we cannot face the Filipino people and let that opportunity pass without registering our protest,” he said.
Without giving Aquino’s reason for postponing the planned state visit, the DFA official, however, said these developments make it even “more significant” for Aquino to go to Beijing.
Other than forging possible cooperation against drug trafficking, the territorial dispute in the South China Sea will surely be raised and it would be an opportunity for Aquino to restate the Philippine position.
“It took a principled position for the Philippines to protest it (9-dash line map). Now we have to say ‘yes and go’ because we stand on solid ground and based on the UNCLOS, and we are well within our rights to exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction over these islands and waters adjacent to it and the continental shelf that it generates. The President should go and say this,” the DFA official said.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)
By Tessa Jamandre | VERA Files
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