[JURIST] The Philippines on Tuesday notified China that it is seeking international arbitration [press release] to declare Chinese claims to the majority of the South China Sea illegal and invalid. Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario [official website] stated in a press conference the country’s intent to bring China before an Arbitral Tribunal under Article 287 and Annex VII of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) [text]. In his statement, Rosario noted:
The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China. On numerous occasions, dating back to 1995, the Philippines has been exchanging views with China to peacefully settle these disputes. To this day, a solution is still elusive. We hope that the Arbitral Proceedings shall bring this dispute to a durable solution.
The Philippines hopes arbitration will bring China in line with UNCLOS, as well as force it to desist from hostile activities that violate the rights of the Philippines to have sovereignty in their own territorial domains. The Notification and Statement of Claims [text, PDF] filed by the Philippines notes Chinese escalation in interference with Philippines maritime rights. It cites China’s July decision [NYT report] to place the entire disputed maritime region under the authority of the Chinese province of Hainan and its passage of a law requiring foreign vessels to obtain Chinese permission before entering the disputed region.
China claims nearly the entire 3.5 million square-kilometer South China Sea, a region believed to be rich in oil and minerals. China has come into territorial conflict over the region in the past not only with the Philippines [JURIST comment], but also with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The Philippines and China were involved in a two month stand-off [Al Jazeera report] that started last April around the Scarborough Shoal, a small cluster of uninhabitable islands 220km off the coast of the Philippines which, according to international maritime law, fall into the Philippines’ economic zone. The standoff was triggered when Chinese vessels blocked the Philippine navy from arresting Chinese fishermen for alleged illegal fishing activities within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones.