PH win against China benefits the world
THERE ARE now two momentous events in world history when the Philippines made remarkable contributions in the international political arena.
In 1986, Filipinos launched a people power revolt that peacefully ousted a dictator. Our aim was local in purpose, but our achievement generated an international impact. The bloodless revolt inspired a chain of people’s uprisings around the world that led to the democratization of countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Poland, and the fall of the Berlin Wall which reunified Germany.
Thirty years later, or on July 12, 2016, the Philippines achieved a momentous victory that began as a campaign to regain national territory, but resulted in an achievement with far-reaching international impact. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued a decision declaring the Philippines to have exclusive economic rights over 381,000 square kilometers of sea territory in the South China Sea (SCS). This area is known in international law as our country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Philippines calls its South China Sea EEZ as the West Philippine Sea. The contrary claim of ownership by the People’s Republic of China over the same maritime area— rich in marine resources and oil/gas deposits— was declared baseless by the tribunal.
Our exclusive economic rights in our EEZ include the following: 1) to exploit all natural resources of the waters, seabed and subsoil; 2) to produce energy from the waters, currents and winds; and 3) to build artificial islands and installations.
Notwithstanding our exclusive economic rights, international law grants other countries the freedom of air and sea navigation in our EEZ. In contrast, if China’s claim of exclusive ownership was instead sustained, other countries’ exercise of the freedom of navigation will be up to China to grant or deny.
From a historical perspective, this dispute with China is our islands’ fifth encounter with a foreign country’s occupation of the whole or part of our territory. Spain, the United States and Japan occupied our islands from the 1500s to 1900s while Great Britain briefly occupied Manila in the 1700s. China’s encroachment on our maritime territory marks the first time since we became an independent republic that we are confronted with a foreign occupation of part of our territory. (Others would include the issue involving Sabah.)
The international impact of the decision obtained by the Philippines is that it invalidated China’s claim of exclusive ownership of over 90 percent of the SCS’ total area of 3.5 million square kilometers. China’s claim encroaches on the EEZ of other Asian countries like Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam. China’s claim also results in the elimination of a “high seas” area in the SCS—an area that is supposed to be outside of any country’s control because it belongs to all humankind.
The decision obtained by the Philippines is hugely beneficial to other Asian countries whose EEZs are encroached upon by China, because the same law and reason should apply to them.
The decision is also hugely beneficial to the rest of the world because it affirms the freedom of sea and air navigation of any country’s vessel across the SCS without need of China’s permission. More than one-third of sea transportation and $5 trillion in annual trade in the world pass through the SCS.
In other words, the Philippines acted as proxy for the rest of the world when it filed the case against China. The Philippines fought and won for the world against China.
However, there is much lamentation on the lack of a way to implement the tribunal’s decision that would obligate China to vacate.
Indeed, our ability to have China abandon its claim and occupation of our EEZ depends on the pressure or influence exerted by various countries on China. Our eyes must be open to the reality that these other countries will exert pressure on China not because they want to help the Philippines. For the countries with their own EEZ disputes with China, their self-interests lie in the fact that a recognition by China of the Philippine EEZ will set a precedent that will benefit them as well. For the other countries of the world, their self-interests lie in the freedom of navigation of their air and sea vessels in the SCS.
Our leaders will have their jobs cut out for them if they allow other countries to overtly support our interest as a covert means to promote their own self-interests, and for the Philippines to likewise overtly advocate their interests as a covert way to advance our own interest.
But the willingness of other countries to align their interests with our interest is dampened by their fear of losing trade with and investments from China.
If China refuses to comply with the tribunal’s decision, the Philippines can use the threat of court litigation against companies which will extract oil/gas, conduct commercial fishing operations, or conduct any form of commercial activity within our EEZ upon the urgings of China. Thus, if Shell conducts gas extraction within our EEZ as a venture partner of China, the Philippines can sue Shell for unlawful exploitation of our natural resources.
While China may use its state companies to do exploration in and exploitation of our EEZ, this scheme will not necessarily deprive the Philippines of the ability to sue these state companies in foreign countries where they enter into contracts or where they have assets.
Interesting and challenging times lie ahead for the Philippines.
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