As China and the Philippines engage in bilateral talks, Manila should revisit the South China Sea arbitral award and not sleep on its rights
As a matter of inviolable principle, the Philippines should incorporate in its terms of reference for bilateral talks with China the July 12, 2016, award by the Ad Hoc Arbitral Tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
The bilateral talks weave inextricably with the framing and eventual adoption of the draft Code of Conduct on the South China Sea between ASEAN and China. The Philippines needs to assert the arbitral award in its negotiations with China as a non-negotiable item, lest the principle of estoppel militate against Philippine interests in South China Sea.
The Philippines has yet to officially and boldly demand China’s immediate and unconditional compliance with its legal obligations arising from the award issued by the tribunal in The Hague. It’s the height of irony that the one without lawful rights over its 9-dash line claim over the South China Sea barks the loudest in militarily asserting China’s “core national interests.”
In contrast, the Philippines, which legitimately possesses sovereign rights and jurisdiction, and secured the final and legally binding arbitral award, is unduly timid and even solicitous of China. It has avoided muttering even anything that remotely hints at its own inviolable sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea. Yet China has been to trying to control and bar Philippines from areas in the Spratly Islands, even though those are situated within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).