Sea rows no mere offshoot of US-China rivalry, says Philippine acting Chief Justice

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - People who insist that the territorial disputes over the South China Sea are the offshoot of the “geopolitical rivalry” between the United States and China are oblivious to the fact that Beijing has illegally claimed ownership over 80 percent of the West Philippine Sea, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said on Monday.

People who insist that the territorial disputes over the South China Sea are the offshoot of the “geopolitical rivalry” between the United States and China are oblivious to the fact that Beijing has illegally claimed ownership over 80 percent of the West Philippine Sea, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said on Monday.

Speaking at the “Kasarinlan” policy forum, Carpio maintained that it was wrong to say that the fight for control over the resource-rich sea region was merely a power play between the two military giants and that the Philippines should distance itself from it.

“Those who hold this view are totally blind to China’s blatant physical seizure of Philippine maritime zones and territory in the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio told the forum, held two days before the second anniversary of the Philippines’ landmark victory in the UN-backed arbitral tribunal in The Hague.

Manila’s sovereign rights

The July 12, 2016, ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) recognized Manila’s sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea, a portion of the South China Sea located within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and invalidated China’s “nine-dash line” policy.

Carpio, who had been at the forefront of the country’s legal battle for the West Philippine Sea, noted that Beijing had openly declared it owned nearly all of the South China Sea.

Core dispute

“No Filipino in his right mind can gloss over this obvious and indisputable fact,” he said. “The core dispute in the South China Sea is China’s appropriation of the high seas, which belong to all mankind.”

Carpio said the diplomatic tension among several countries with overlapping claims in the South China Sea would ease if China “stops its unlawful seizure of the EEZs” of claimant states.

Because President Duterte had opted to secure loans and investments from China in exchange for the non-enforcement of the PCA decision, Carpio said it was now up to ordinary Filipinos to take up the cudgels.

“It is also our duty now to inform the other peoples of the world that China’s compliance with the award is essential to the survival of Unclos as the governing law for the oceans and seas of our planet,” he said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

He warned that China’s continued use of military power in the South China Sea might prompt other powerful nations to gain control of sea waters owned by smaller countries.

“That will mean the collapse of the rule of law in the oceans and seas of our planet. What will prevail will be the rule of the naval canon,” Carpio said.

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