Q and A: How can PH get Mischief Reef back from China?


HAWAII, USA – The international court was unambiguous about China’s illegal occupation of Mischief Reef, an underwater feature that Beijing has reclaimed to host a runway and a missile system, among other structures that neighbors are protesting.

The 2016 landmark ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration said China violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines, declaring that Mischief Reef falls within an area that “only the Philippines possesses [with] possible entitlements to maritime zones” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

South China Sea expert Alexander Vuving said there’s a need to talk about the Philippines getting back Mischief Reef.

“It is worth the conversation, at least, because it gives the Philippines more options, because it would give international law some teeth, and because Mischief can be the fulcrum of a strategy to restore equilibrium in the region,” Vuving said.

One of the Philippine’s experts on the South China Sea, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, has practically given up on this. “China spent billions of dollars putting up those structures and we cannot expect China to just abandon those very expensive reclamations,” Carpio said in a November 23 forum on the South China Sea.

“Right now a lot of people contain themselves within the traditional way of seeing things and forgo these options and China is able to leverage that mindset,” Vuving said.

Vuving is a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii. He is known for his hawkish views and criticism of how the former administration of US President Barack Obama handled the South China Sea dispute.