MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines cannot claim Benham Rise as its own territory despite it being part of the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, Beijing said.
In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the submission of the Philippines in 2009 with respect to the limits of its continental shelf in the Benham Rise region. This enables the Philippines to carry out exploration and development of natural resources in the area.
“But it does not mean that the Philippines can take it as its own territory,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a recent statement.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, however, said that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) states that “a coastal state’s rights over the continental shelf do not affect the legal status of the superjacent waters or of the air space above those waters, nor do they affect foreign ships’ navigation freedom in the coastal state’s EEZ and on the high seas, or their innocent passage through the coastal state’s territorial sea as supported by international law.”
Meanwhile, international law professor Professor Julian Ku of Hofstra University said that the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s response to the issue is confusing and troubling.
Geng noted that the UN commission approved the Philippines’ submission in 2009 claiming Benham Rise is on its extended continental shelf, but the spokesperson also claims that the UN approval does not mean that the region is part of the Philippines’ territory.
“Actually, that’s what it means. UNCLOS Art. 76(8) makes those [Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf] recommendations ‘final and binding’ if [the Philippines] accepts (it did),” Ku said on Twitter.
Paragraph 1, Article 77 of the UNLCOS states that a state has sovereign rights over its continental shelf for the purpose of “exploring it and exploiting its natural resources.”
“The rights referred to in paragraph 1 are exclusive in the sense that if the coastal State does not explore the continental shelf or exploit its natural resources, no one may undertake these activities without the express consent of the coastal State,” the UNCLOS states.