MANILA, Philippines — For Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., the Philippines has the “right” but “no might yet” on the issue of territorial claims in the South China Sea.
“Defense Secretary (Delfin) Lorenzana says Sandy Cay is ours. The erudite paper I read didn’t quite say that categorically. But I like the categorical tone. IT IS OURS,” Locsin said in a tweet on Saturday.
“While Lorenzana is right and I am so happy that is his position, when we come to argue our case to these features we must be as tight, precise and economical in our claims – Occam’s Razor; because all we have is right. We have no might yet. But soon we will. It is on its way,” he tweeted.
In April, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio called for the filing of diplomatic protests over China’s seizure of Sandy Cay and two low-tide sandbars, which he said are also within the country’s territorial waters.
He said that Sandy Cay, a high-tide sandbar, and two nearby low-tide sandbars, are less than two nautical miles from Pag-asa Island. These sandbars emerged within the Philippines’ 12-nautical-mile territorial sea in Pag-asa. Anything that emerges within the country’s territorial sea is also its territory and is well-recognized under international law.
Carpio warned that if the country fails to file the protests, it “will be deemed to have acquiesced” to Beijing.
Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario said that “Contrary to our position that right is might, China has strongly declared that it is might that will triumph (over) what is right.”
In a landmark ruling on July 12, 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) found no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to a “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea and Beijing had breached the sovereign rights of the Philippines, which brought the case.
The tribunal also ruled that many purported islands controlled by China are not in fact islands, but instead reefs or rocks, which do not generate territorial rights.
China refused to honor the ruling and raised a serious accusation against the judges of the tribunal, saying they took bribes from the Philippines in exchange for invalidating Beijing’s expansive and excessive claims in the South China Sea.
Despite its militarization of the South China Sea raising regional tensions, China declared it is “always a builder of world peace, contributor to global development and defender of international order.”
Meanwhile, China has opposed a bill filed in the US Senate that proposes sanctions for involvement in “illegal” activities in the South and East China Seas, saying it runs counter to international law and basic norms governing international relations.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Party Sen. Ben Cardin on Thursday formally reintroduced the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act that would “impose sanctions against Chinese individuals and entities that participate in Beijing’s illegitimate activities to aggressively assert its expansive maritime and territorial claims in these disputed regions.”
“The act you mentioned runs counter to international law and basic norms governing international relations. China firmly opposes it,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang.
“Regarding the so-called proposal by some in the US, China’s position on the South China Sea and the East China Sea is consistent and clear. Construction on Chinese territory in the South China Sea is a matter completely within our sovereignty,” he said.
China urged the US not to move forward the review process to prevent further disturbance to bilateral relations. The US emphasized there is a need for the US to be present in the South China Sea.
Washington warned that China’s aggressive and unilateral actions in the South China Sea have a “very direct effect” on the sovereignty and interest of the Philippines.
US Ambassador Sung Kim said on Thursday that the US military alliance with the Philippines remains critically important to maintain stability in the Indo-Pacific region and US presence in the South China Sea will continue.
“The South China Sea is part of the Pacific, therefore our obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty clearly applies to situations in the South China Sea,” Kim said in a forum in Quezon City.
US forces operate in the Asia-Pacific region, including the South China Sea, under a comprehensive freedom of navigation program.
The operations, conducted in accordance with international law, are meant to demonstrate that the US will continue to fly, sail and operate “wherever international law allows.”
The US has been consistently urging the claimants including China to refrain from taking unilateral aggressive actions that are inconsistent with international law and norms.
“Even though we are not a claimant, we take very serious interest in what’s happening in the South China Sea, and that’s why we work very hard to protect freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight,” the ambassador said.
During his visit in Manila in March, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo assured the Philippines that Washington will come to its defense if its forces, aircraft and vessels in the South China Sea are attacked, saying any armed attack there will trigger the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty obligations under which America’s commitments are “clear.”