Defending Sovereign Rights in the West Philippine Sea by Justice Antonio T. Carpio


Importance of the South China Sea US$5.3 trillion in ship-borne goods traverse the South China Sea annually, accounting for almost one-half of the world’s shipborne trade in tonnage. Four leading exporting countries use the South China Sea for their maritime trade – China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Sixty-five percent of South Korea’s petroleum imports, 60% of Japan and Taiwan’s petroleum imports, and 50% of China’s petroleum imports pass through the South China Sea.* Twelve percent of the annual global fish catch comes from the South China Sea, worth US$21.8 billion. Two billion people live in 10 countries bordering the South China Sea, and hundreds of millions of people depend on fish from the South China Sea for their protein. The maritime areas close to the coast of countries bordering the South China Sea are rich in oil and gas. The South China Sea is also rich in methane hydrates – which China considers its future source of energy.*

A sandbar or rock, above water at high tide even by a few inches, is an island entitled to a 12 NM territorial sea around it (Article 121, UNCLOS). This amounts to 155,165 hectares of maritime space, more than twice the land area of Metro Manila of 63,600 hectares, and more than twice the land area of Singapore of 70,000 hectares. All the fish, oil, gas and mineral resources within this huge area belong to the state that has sovereignty over the rock or sandbar. Importance of Sandbars and Rocks Above Water At High Tide

“Chinese activities in the South China Sea date back to over 2,000 years ago. China was the first country to discover, name, explore and exploit the resources of the South China Sea Islands and the first to continuously exercise sovereign powers over them.” China’s Historical Narrative To Claim the South China Sea (China’s Position Paper of 7 December 2014 submitted to the Arbitral Tribunal)

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