China formally rejects UN arbitration on West PHL Sea issue

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(Updated 8:11 p.m.) China has officially rejected a Philippine move to bring the long-running territorial issues over the South China Sea before a U.N. arbitration tribunal, saying Manila’s claim was legally infirm and carried unacceptable allegations against Beijing.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it received Tuesday afternoon from Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing a Note Verbale stating that China is rejecting and returning the Philippines’ Notification and Statement of Claim.

In its Note Verbale, China reiterated its often stated position that it has indisputable sovereignty over the entire South China Sea encompassed by its nine-dash line claim, which covers nearly the entirety of the sea, including areas that are well within Philippine territory and several disputed islands.

Despite this setback, the Philippines “remains committed to Arbitration which is a friendly, peaceful and durable form of dispute settlement that should be welcomed by all,” the DFA said in the statement.

According to Chinese state news Xinhua, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, at a briefing in Beijing, said the Philippines’ note and statement of notification and claim have “serious mistakes both in facts and law.”

Although widely expected, China’s move was still a blow to Philippine government’s efforts to take a legal track in confronting China on overlapping claims in the resource-rich waters, called West Philippine Sea by Manila, which have long been a source of diplomatic and maritime tensions.

Philippine officials have said that the arbitration process would proceed even if China would decide to ignore it but Chinese experts have asserted otherwise.

The tribunal, which would operate under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, would decide whether the arbitration case could be heard even in the absence of China.

Manila initiated an arbitration process under the UNCLOS on January 21 to try to declare as “illegal” China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea.

Apart from China and the Philippines, three members of Association of South East Asian Nations – Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia – have claims in the South China Sea, where Chinese rival Taiwan is also a claimant.

Manila has maintained that a rules-based approach is the only legitimate way in addressing disputes through a legal framework such as the UNCLOS, a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states. The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty.

China is citing historical entitlements as basis for its huge claims over the waters, a strategic sealane dotted with islands, shoals, cays, reefs and rock formations and is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.

Many have feared the conflicts could be Asia’s next flashpoint. — KBK, GMA News

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